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CIO interview: Vlassios Rizopoulos, CTO,

CTO of independent online search engine explains how it uses big data and high-performance computing to cater to customers who use price as the deciding factor for their purchase

In a world where technology gives consumers easy access to products from hundreds of retailers across the globe, price is often the factor that customers use to decide whether to make a purchase.

The use of price comparison websites (PCWs) is on the rise for products and services of all kinds, and research from independent online search engine found that 62% of consumers are now using PCWs to find the best prices for products.

But these sites often do not show all the available products matching a particular description, leading to biased search results that may lead to the customer not finding the product, and the price, that they wanted. CTO Vlassios Rizopoulos explains: “Only a subset of the retailers will appear, which I think is what is missing in the market. You should be able to find all the prices across all retailers for a particular product without the retailer having to pay for the service.”

As consumers’ access to technology has increased, so has their ability to research goods and use digital devices, and now this knowledge is something customers expect retailers to have too.

Consumers typically use up to four price comparison sites when shopping for certain products, but aims to list as many retailers and their prices as possible in one place.

While many retailers may have to pay to make sure their products are included on a PCW, offers its service to retailers for free to develop an “unbiased” platform for customers to find the products that best suit them.

Retailers may also be required to adhere to a number of technology specifications to list on a site, but Pricesearcher bypasses this by developing its own adaptable application programming interfaces (APIs) so that it can easily integrate with different retailers’ back ends.

Rizopoulos says: “By doing that, we are allowing more retailers to list with us and we think this eventually benefits both the retailer and end-users because end-users can see the biggest part of the market and are able to compare products from retailers that they might not have factored in otherwise.” 

On average, the Pricesearcher website processes 1.5 billion prices a day, and clothes are a huge part of this market.

Expansion plans

“There are plans for expanding, but at the moment we are focusing purely on retail goods,” says Rizopoulos. “So it has to be a physical product with a fixed price.”

But unlike many others in the retail space, the challenge of offering customers a personalised experience is not something has to face because most customers know exactly what they are looking for.

“It’s either people who know exactly what they’re looking for and they’ve come to our site to try and find the best price, or we sometimes have people come to the site and they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for,” says Rizopoulos.

Because most consumers who visit the site know what they want to buy, personalisation is not something Pricesearcher’s tech team have felt the need to tackle.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to persuade fickle customers to be loyal to a brand because of the greater availability of technology allowing them to shop around, so apart from consumer experience, the pricepoint of a product is a retailer’s main competitive factor.          

For this reason, Rizopoulos says most customers “know exactly what they’re after and they convert to a sale straight away”.

For the more unusual visitor to the Pricesearcher website – the explorer who is not entirely sure what they are looking for – Rizopoulos says offering such wide choices helps the company to “cater to more types of shoppers” as they are seeing a much larger part of the market than they would normally.

But consumers can often struggle with too much choice when it comes to retail. To combat this, Pricesearcher has been working to provide some reviews for products to help consumers decide.

“In some cases, this may help drive the consumer to the retailer that most fits what they’re looking for, so they don’t make the decision based just on price,” says Rizopoulos.

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The volume of data that processes and presents to consumers in real time has led it to invest in technology that can scale to match the volumes being processed each day.

Some retailers change their prices regularly, so Pricesearcher checks for updates on products up to four times a day to ensure it is giving the most accurate picture of the market.

The Pricesearcher system processes 1.5 billion prices every day, compared with a “few million” products offered by other comparison sites, says Rizopoulos. “We have built our platform and our infrastructure in such a way that we can scale all the way up to billions of products,” he adds.

The retail comparison site uses Amazon Web Services (AWS), to which it migrated as soon as it was funded in December 2016 to ensure it could cope with the high volume of processing required in short periods of time.

“In December 2016, we were processing about 50 million prices a day, and that has increased to 20 times the volume in less than a year,” says Rizopoulos. “The cloud has been instrumental in our ability to be able to deliver that because we can take advantage of the flexibility that cloud provides.”

Competitive advantage

But although this can present “quite a big technical challenge”, Rizopoulos says this is what gives the firm its competitive advantage.

Retailers can integrate directly into the Pricesearcher API, and the firm has been working to form relationships with retailers to develop product lists.

Allowing retailers easy access to this service ensures users can view a wider range of products, and consumers’ decisions are less “biased” as a result, he says.

Amazon has agreed to partner Pricesearcher, and Rizopoulos suggests this is because being independent from Google and Bing is “of value” to the online retail giant.

Rizopoulos has also faced less technical challenges at Pricesearcher – although he has worked in the technology industry before, the CTO role is very new to him.

“From a technical perspective, because I’ve had a long career in developing programmes, the tech we’re looking to implement is not really difficult,” he says. “However, what I find a little bit more challenging is the elements beyond the technical.”

Rizopoulos is not the first to find softer skills the more difficult aspect of modern digital roles – increasingly, firms are looking for people with both technical skills and softer skills, such as good presentation, communication and teamworking qualities, something that many employers feel young people are leaving education without.

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