Interviews with Retailers

September 30, 2005

Are you a merchant that advertises on a number of shopping comparison engines? Want to be featured on ComparisonEngines.com? In October, I’m going to start posting interviews with a number of merchants…want to participate? Just email brian at comparisonengines.com.

Thanks!
-b


MSN Shopping – Attribute Extraction for Soft Goods

September 30, 2005

From MSN Shopping Insider via the SEW Blog

“Attribute extraction was one of the biggest investment areas we made for our new site, and we’ve now grown our selection so significantly, the next step is to give our users more and more tools to help them narrow down the list of items to the things that they’re really looking for. To help them do that, we now have category-specific refinements in over 300 categories. ” – Chris Jolley, Group Programming Manager MSN Shopping

Read more at MSN Shopping Insider.


What Comparison Engines are Doing Wrong

September 29, 2005

Preston Wily from SewellDirect, wrote a smart piece about minimum bid amounts on the shopping comparison engines and how the artificial price floors are detrimental to consumers. You should definitely check it out.


More from my ChannelAdvisor Presentation…

September 29, 2005

I don’t have time to edit, so excuse the grammatical errors and the typos…

Merchant Strategy…
I basically went off on feeds. I tried to drive home the point that feeds are the most important aspect of this marketing channel. Feeds are not as easy to create as YSM ads or Adwords ads. They take time and effort. Each shopping comparison engine has different requirements for the feed. Each shopping comparison engine has lots of optional data – you’ll be tempted to just do the basics, but the more information you provide, the better.

I guarantee you that your feed will not be correct the first time. Common mistakes include using a carriage return in the feed, using HTML in the feed, incorrect image URLs, and the list goes on and on and on. Especially with Froogle, you will be extremely frustrated. Just don’t forget that the feed is critical. It is your opportunity to tell the world about your products…tell the world that your company is the best. It’s worth spending time on to get correct. This is also why working with someone to create the feed can make a lot of sense.

Some tips:
-Re-submit often
-Use every field offered – imagine that all fields are marked required…the more information you provide, the more complete a roadmap of your products you’re giving the comparison engines, which in turn allows more consumers to find your products and click on your listings.
-Submit promotions through the comparison engines. Just remember to take the promotions down in a timely manner. Consumers don’t like to be told one price and then be told another higher price a minute later.
-Submit coupons (to the engines which allow this)
-Use the extra services – add a logo, add your phone number, make sure to put up the review surveys
-Always include a quality image in your feed (unless you sell lingerie…seriously, you will get way to many ‘curiosity’ clicks)

Track:
As with any marketing channel, tracking is essential. Most of the shopping comparison engines have tracking capability built into their systems – a little piece of invisible code (containing a pixel) that you can put on your checkout/confirmation page, but at some point (after you’re working with 5 engines) this gets a little out of hand. Also, using these pixels affords the comparison engines insight into how well you’re doing which in turn could push them to raise click prices. An alternative is to use your log analyzer program (Omniture, WebTrends, etc.) to track statistics.
Read the rest of this entry »


Highlights from my ChannelAdvisor Presentation

September 28, 2005

Here are some points from my ChannelAdvisor Summit presentation:

What’s the Fuss all About? (Why are shopping comparison engines a hot topic?)
Three perspectives on this:

First, from the consumer perspective, shopping comparison engines are all about convenience. As opposed to having to click from merchant to merchant on Google or Yahoo!, the shopping comparison engines have organized their data in such a way that in a couple clicks, consumers can make an informed buying decision.

Second, from the retailer perspective, the shopping comparison engines are more targeted than general search which should lead to a higher conversion rate. This targeting comes in two ways: 1) Yahoo! and Google don’t know what question you’re asking while shopping comparison engines do. If you do a search for refridgerator on Yahoo!, you could be looking for information on a manufacturer recall, a manual, a price, a service center, a replacement part, etc. If you do a search for refridgerator on a shopping comparison engine, though, there are only a couple specific questions you could be asking (Where can I buy this product? Is this a good product to buy? Is the merchant reputable? How much should I pay for this product). 2) The shopping comparison engines have categorized/normalized the world…while placement under a specific feature set of refridgerators might not bring you a ton of clicks, it will increase your conversion rate).

Third, from the investor perspective, shopping comparison engines are at the nexus (Grrr. I think I spelled it ‘nexis’ in my presentation) of a lot of ‘hot’ areas, namely: eCommerce, PPC, vertical search, and international expansion.
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ChannelAdvisor Summit

September 28, 2005

Ok, I have to applaud ChannelAdvisor.

First, I was extremely impressed with the ChannelAdvisor team. Everyone from the company seemed intelligent, engaging, and passionate. It reminded me of my early days at VarsityBooks.com (now VarsityGroup) where the team was like a family. Is it the the North Carolina buttermilk biscuits & gravy? The hiring practices? Scot, Michael, what’s the secret?

Second, the conference itself was very well organized and packed with high quality speakers (I’ll fill you in on my presentation in a bit). While I’d be pissed if I had to manage another PPC account for a client, I was impressed with the MSN adCenter demo. It’s not a game changing event, but MSN is at least moving in the right direction. Jupiter was well represented by the usual suspects…shocking to hear that eCommerce is growing. I enjoyed hearing the analysts perspective – Jeetil Patel (Deutsche Bank), Mark Maheney (Citigroup Smith Barney), and Shawn Milne (FBR) spoke about eBay, Amazon, Yahoo!, Google, and some smaller players (I’ll post some of their comments later today).

Finally, the attendees of the conference just seemed to get it. I’ve been doing internet marketing/business development for 10 years…I’ll toot my horn a bit and say that I’m pretty damn good at it, too. So I like to have conversations that challenge me…that put me out of my comfort zone. Also, I like to learn new and innovative practices from others. While this doesn’t happen every interaction, it definitely occurred the majority of the time at the ChannelAdvisor Summit.


Trent Scoffield – Director US Sales & Operations, Shopping.com (SDC)

September 27, 2005

Heard at the ChannelAdvisor Summit
General
-Trent hinted that there will be features introduced through the Merchant Account Center (MAC) that will “change the game.”
-SDC has the highest conversion and rate on return: Merchants earn nearly $18 on every dollar spent with SDC vs. $4 with Google (Netplus)
-90% of the top 300 merchants in the US are on SDC
-Generated 300m paid leads to over 6,000 merchants in 2004
-Delivering the industry’s best conversion to sale; buyers, not browsers
-We process feeds 2-3 times today, that frequency will go up [as merchants demand it]
-SmartBuy gets 3x the traffic and 3x the conversion to sale

Data Feed Problems
-No post-processing platform
-Minimum filtering capabilities
-Not “Smart” (there’s no connection btw sales data and data feed)
-No taxonomic enhancements (you’re not improving the categories – there’s no standard)
-No data improvements (engines need clean product descriptions and product names)

Data Feed Tactics
-”Invest” today. Don’t wait.

Start Simple
-Feed delivery time (know when the sites process feeds)
-Essentials (stock, pricing, tax, shipping)
-Filtering by price

Then Graduate
-Right product, right place, right time
-Marketing message by product
-Taxonomic improvements
-Data integrity
-The data feed platform is one of the single most important investments in a performance based marketing environment.

Test, Analyze
-Merchants that are constantly testing and analyzing are the retailers that are the most successful
-Repeat
-The merchants that work closely with SDC have better success (stay in touch with SDC)

Questions…
SKU Level Bidding – “It’s on the list”
Data Feeds – “We frequently find that merchants can get some of the products up, but not all. We then crawl those sites to help them out.”
Pricing pressure b/c of Shopping Comparison Engines – “Some of these merchants just can’t survive with their tactic to lower their prices below costs.”
Why the #1 player in the space? – “Consumer experience. Organic traffic is #1 driver”


HealthPricer.com – The Vertical Shopping Comparison Engine

September 25, 2005

HealthPricer is a vertical shopping comparison engine focused on Health and Wellness. HealthPricer is owned by OnePersonHealth, a public company listed on the TSX Venture Exchange. While I think the company faces an uphill battle, the business proposition makes sense. There are some sets of products – in this case, health related goods and services – for which consumers might need more than just merchant reviews and prices during the buying process. When dealing with my health, I want to know as much information as possible. As a Jupiter study pointed out, 45% of online consumers access the internet for health related information. Add all those information seeking eyeballs to a growing e-commerce market, and you can start to see HealthPricer’s opportunity. The current stable of shopping comparison engines do offer Health and Wellness products, but they lack the nutritional and scientific content that a vitamin shopper might want. Just as Google and Yahoo! can’t be everything to everybody and therefore open up the door for vertical search engines, maybe Yahoo! Shopping and Shopzilla can’t be everything to everybody and open up the door up for a second set of vertical search engines.

I spoke with Mike Brown, President, and Gerd Zobel, VP E-Commerce of OnePersonHealth a couple weeks ago…

What is OnePersonHealth?
Mike: “OnePersonHealth (OPH), initially founded in 2001, recognized an opportunity to be a part of the baby boomer demand for health and wellness by helping them understand nutritional needs. Early on the company built an online assessment engine which allows people to go online and go through a fairly long (20mins) assessment on personal health, medications, lifestyle, etc. At the end of the assessment, the user gets several different reports. Included is a recommendation engine which tells the user certain supplements to take to lead a healthy lifestyle. We’re a science based company and have aggregated and built a lot of data in that area.”
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Comparison Engine Jobs

September 21, 2005

I just sent out this week’s job listings newsletter. Shopzilla alone has 58 openings…makes sense that one of them would be for a Senior Recruiter.

I’ve always viewed job listings as a way to find out what’s happening with the competition. Here are 2 insights from this week….

First, MSN has a position open for a MapPoint Lead Program Manager:

The MapPoint Business Unit builds Virtual Earth, MapPoint Web Service, MSN Maps & Directions, Streets & Trips, MapPoint, Pocket Streets and platform to support MSN Mobile Maps & Directions, Microsoft MapPoint Location Server and Windows Mobile applications for Pocket PC and Smartphone. The MapPoint team recently merged into a newly formed MSN Local Search organization in MSN Search to leave no stone unturned in this battle with Google, Yahoo and AOL to be the leader in mapping and Local Search. MapPoint, Virtual Earth and Local Search are all growing teams and provide excellent career growth opportunities.

Ok, while this job isn’t directly related to comparison shopping, it’s GREAT to see MSFT taking local search seriously. Because of Google Map APIs, people finally see potential for local search and local advertising. The position above came up because the lead program manager is also responsible for “forging and managing internal partner relationships (MSN Search, MSN Spaces, MSN Shopping, MSN IM, MSN Mobile, MSN Photos etc.). In case you missed it, MSN Shopping is included in that list. We’re not there yet, but there will be amazingly useful location based shopping services beyond the current generation of SMS offerings (which I don’t think anyone is using). Pure play comparison engines can’t ignore this opportunity.

If you’re looking for a unique perspective on Microscoft, you should check out Mini-Microsoft.

Second, Smarter.com today listed 15 additional positions at it’s China (Shanghai) office. Last year everyone seemed to be buzzing around the shopping comparison engines moving into Europe…I couldn’t figure out why no one was talking about Asia. No official word on a launch date for Smarter.com’s China site, but it’s obviously coming up soon.

Remember, the Job Listings Newsletter is FREE for both job seekers and employers. To subscribe, sign up for ‘Notifications’ and make sure to opt-into the Job Postings list. You can also view the most recent job postings in the Jobs section.


Launching iMicroscope.com – Second Test Store

September 19, 2005

As I build out my simple comparison engine submission service, I’ll be working with a number of ‘test’ sites. The first store I submitted to the shopping comparison engines was Personal Protection Store – a home security systems retailer. The second store went live this morning; if you’re in need of a microscope, make sure to check out iMicroscope.com.

While I’m working out bugs in my data feed submission program, this is also an opportunity for me to document the merchant sign up process so I can more competently work with small businesses that are just getting started on the shopping comparison engines.

One last note here…semi-related. For iMicroscope.com, I originally signed up with eBay’s ProStores. After 2 months of trying to get that store up and running, I finally gave up. Setting up my Yahoo! Store, on the other hand, took about 5 days from start to finish. Just a note to all you merchants out there…


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