Tricia Duryee

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TheFind Looks to Define E-Commerce on the Tablet

TheFind, a six-year old online shopping comparison site, is looking to define e-commerce on tablets.

Next week, the company will launch its best guess: a platform that enables brands and merchants to launch the equivalent of a mail-order catalog on the iPad.

TheFind’s Catalogue app follows a similar app called Catalog Spree, which was developed by the start-up Padopolis and launched last month.

“We’ve been working on iPhone apps for awhile and have about 12 million searches monthly,” said TheFInd’s CEO Siva Kumar. “It’s a large part of our traffic, but the question is, what do we do with tablets? And, how do we engage with users?

“It’s more about discovery than it is about search.”

The application, which is expected to launch early next week, will be different from TheFind online and on the phone. Rather than starting with a search box–and having a specific product in mind–users can browse large photos and digitally window shop.

Kumar said the application will include roughly 35 different catalogs in the beginning, including Sephora, Nordstrom and Crate and Barrel. It will also have some unconventional companies that aren’t known for catalogs, such as eBags and Stella & Dot.

Likewise, Catalog Spree, which launched last month, has a number of partners, such as Dwell Studio, Serena & Lily, Tea Collection, Nordstrom, Filson and Artful Home.

Both expect to add more catalogs over time and offer fairly similar experiences, such as a homepage presenting thumbnails of all of the catalogs, which can be subscribed to like newsfeeds via RSS.

TheFind has raised $26 million in three rounds and has been cash-flow positive for the past nine quarters. Menlo Park, Calif.-based Padopolis has raised $1.3 million in seed funding.

Padopolis and TheFind both believe they’ve created an interactive platform that enables shoppers to sift through lots of merchandise quickly, like sitting on the couch and thumbing through a catalog. But they also have integrated the applications into merchants’ e-commerce sites, so consumers can get more information about a particular product and ultimately place an order.

“We’ve been working on how to re-imagine the catalog with pinch and zoom and take full advantage of the pictures. It’s been a technical challenge to make it so you can flick from page to page easily and reflect the actual state on the Web. We wanted to marry up the two things to make [the catalog] alive on the tablet,” Kumar said.

Catalogue and Catalog Spree are free, and both companies collect commissions from sales. TheFind anticipates launching an Android version soon, and following it up with a similar experience on Facebook.

If either are successful at digitizing the catalog, the opportunity could be significant.

Roughly 20 billion catalogs were mailed last year in the U.S., jumping from 18 billion two years ago. That translates to a more than $100 billion annual business, often representing the single-largest revenue generator for retailers.