Microsoft has agreed to buy comparison shopping business Ciao in a deal worth around US$486 million, and plans to integrate the service into its Live Search sites, it announced Friday.
The deal is a sign that Microsoft's commercial search ambitions extend to Europe, where Ciao is present in seven countries. Microsoft launched a comparison shopping and search reward site, Live Search cashback, for US surfers in May this year.
The company said it expects to use Ciao to boost its MSN e-commerce services, in addition to incorporating Ciao's services into its Live Search sites to enhance the user experience, said John Mangelaars, Microsoft's vice president for consumer and online in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
"When you type in 'Sony camera' it might be nice not just to get a description of the camera and a picture, but also to know where you can get the best prices and see them on a map," he said.
Microsoft's US$486 million offer for Ciao's parent company, Greenfield Online, tops that of a consortium led by private equity fund Quadrangle Group. In June, Greenfield made a definitive agreement to be acquired by Quadrangle for US$426 million, and must now pay the consortium a US$5 million fee to terminate that agreement.
Ciao, based in Munich, Germany, operates consumer review and comparison shopping portals in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
Its sites carry around 5 million user-generated reviews of products from about 2,200 merchants, who pay a fee to have their products listed, the company said.
In addition to the comparison shopping service, Greenfield also owns Ciao Surveys, which pays Internet users for responding to consumer surveys. Microsoft will sell that business to an unnamed buyer immediately upon acquiring Greenfield, it said.
Microsoft isn't interested in the survey operations. "We're not in that business," said Mangelaars.
But analyst Anette Schaefer, director of Yankee Group's Consumer Research group, expressed surprise at that decision. "I think the survey side is an excellent tool. They could get good value from that. I would use it more as a marketing tool," said Schaefer.
Greenfield expects the transaction to close in the fourth quarter. The acquisition will still go ahead even if Microsoft is unable to find a buyer for the survey business, it said.