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Sites bridge online, offline commerce to let shoppers find best local price

Startup says it has indexed more than 42,000 stores in thousands of communities nationwide and enables users to peruse "a real-time inventory" of more than 1.5 million products and growing by an average of 185,000 items per month.

SAN JOSE, Calif. - On my morning caffeine run, I've been ordering the Christmas blend lately, easing into the most wonderfully commercial time of the year. I'm looking forward to enabling Santa Claus and getting teary-eyed at the ending of "It's a Wonderful Life."

And here in Silicon Valley, I find myself wondering: Every time a cash register rings, does an angel investor get his wings? Or do their wings grow more feathers?

Consider the just-in-time-for-the-holidays news about, a Palo Alto, Calif., startup that recently scored $4 million in first-round funding from True Ventures and a host of prominent angels, including Ron Conway, Jeff Clavier and veterans of PayPal, YouTube and

A decade after Amazon and eBay led the original e-commerce boom - and gave a boost to companies like FedEx, DHL and PayPal in the process - Milo's mission is to enable people to do their comparison shopping online and find the best price at nearby brick-and-mortar stores.

Milo bills itself as a bridge between online and offline commerce, which is hardly an original concept. Krillion, NearbyNow and ShopLocal are among the competitors. There are also sites dedicated to products. Retrevo, for example, is a vertical search engine that specializes in electronic goods and points users to both online and offline deals.

But as Google proved, originality isn't nearly as important as execution. Milo's progress has impressed investors who have looked under the hood.

Since launching its public beta last December, Milo says it has grown by an average monthly increase of 70 percent and is now approaching "an expected" 1 million users a month. The startup says it has indexed more than 42,000 stores in thousands of communities nationwide and enables users to peruse "a real-time inventory" of more than 1.5 million products and growing by an average of 185,000 items per month.

Milo's founders are Jack Abraham and John Evans, who were involved in creating the core technology of comScore, a leading Web metrics company, and Google veteran Ted Dziuba.

Abraham, Milo's CEO, boasted in a news release that the first-round funding was "very oversubscribed," meaning they raised more money than they were seeking. The money, the company says, will be used to expand its real-time database daily, adding more products and stores.

True Ventures co-founder Jon Callaghan, who has joined Milo's board, said that the trend of "research online, buy offline" is forecast to represent 40 percent of retail sales by 2011, eight times the amount of current online sales.

"Jack and his team have mastered what much bigger companies haven't been able to, and I'm excited to be a part of what I foresee will be explosive growth," Callaghan said.

Window shopping via Facebook and Twitter: With Facebook now boasting more than 350 million users - more than the U.S. population - it should come as no surprise that marketers are flocking to the site during the holiday season. A new report from the metrics outfit Hitwise showed that the "downstream traffic" from Facebook to retail sites increased 36 percent on Thanksgiving from the previous day, compared to 15 percent on Twitter.

The growth continued on Black Friday and Cyber Monday while retailers promoted sales on fan pages and tweets, said Heather Dougherty, director of research at Hitwise. Most of the traffic went to Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Toys R Us, with Wal-Mart receiving the highest share on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday and Amazon leading on Cyber Monday.
"One caveat," Dougherty noted, "is that some of the traffic is going to be natural movement between the Web sites."

Monetary policies: PayPal has opened up its platform to developers, and Facebook is said to be working on its e-wallet, but others are hard at work as well. The startup gWallet announced a new funding that brings its total funding to $12.5 million.

Meanwhile, leaders of Offerpal Media, eager to put a controversy over dubious advertising offers behind them, unveiled "Offerpal Shopping" - a way for players of online games to earn virtual currency while shopping at online retailers.

"Our goal has always been to give consumers an alternative to paying for virtual currency by letting them earn it instead - whether by filling out ad offers, completing surveys or now simply by shopping for the types of goods and services they already use every day," said George Garrick, Offerpal's new CEO.

(c) 2009, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).

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