The shopping comparison engine PriceRunner has this week launched a service which enables consumers to access pricing information from 118118 operators when they are out doing their shopping.

This is bad news for offline retailers who are failing to offer value, but good news for price-sensitive shoppers who want to make sure they are not missing a bargain.

The new service will be delivered by 118118 direct inquiry assistants who can give out PriceRunner information, enabling callers to compare prices for different products over the phone when they are away from their PC or laptop.

The ValueClick-owned comparison site, again in partnership with 118118, will also be launching an SMS service later in 2006, which will enable users to receive prices directly to their mobile phones via text message.

Mobile services are a logical way for comparison engines to add value for consumers and a reflection of how shoppers are becoming increasingly savvy in the way they are researching before purchase.

The reality is that, for many product categories, the majority of purchases by those who have carried out online research beforehand take place offline.

According to research by Google and comScore in March this year, 63% of purchases following an online search were actually converted offline, compared to 37% of purchases which were made online.

Gary Goodman, Marketing Director at PriceRunner, said that convergence of technology and changing consumer behaviour were the driving factors behind the inception of these new mobile services.

He added: “As well as making price comparison information relevant, we also have to make it as timely as possible. We know from our research that our website users were printing off information and taking it to shops but that is clearly not very efficient or convenient … There has been a discernible change in user behaviour in recent months and this service is a reflection of that.”

A glance through our recently published E-consultancy Shopping Comparison Buyer’s Guide suggests that the provision of alerts to consumers’ mobile phones by comparison sites is currently the exception rather than the rule.

Only four out the 13 comparison sites profiled in the report offered mobile phone services to their website users.

Those comparison engines who fail to offer these services are likely to be left behind in the future as consumers become more familiar with the benefits of mobile phone services such as short-code messages.

So expect an explosion of these services in the next few months as the engines and other types of online service provider seek to differentiate themselves by embracing convergence and the changing face of the multi-channel shopping environment.

Traditional retailers who are still in denial about changing consumer behaviour need to wake up quickly. This phenomenon is a huge opportunity as well as a threat.

The PriceRunner service, called PriceFinder, will be supported by a co-branded microsite that will be available at by the end of July.