Conferences – Infopia Summit & IMA

February 28, 2007

Infopia Summit

I’ll be at the Infopia Summit Thursday & Friday co-presenting with Jessica Taylor on shopping comparison engine marketing. Thanks to Infopia for the invitation. Presenters include buySAFE, PayPal, and Google Checkout.

Meanwhile, down in Vegas, reps from Google, Amazon, and eBay, as well as friends from Deutche Bank and Channel Advisor will be presenting at the IMA Conference 2007.

And in case you’re not conferenced out, I’m thinking of running my own shopping comparison engine marketing mini-conference the day before ad-tech (SF) or the day before Search Engine Strategies (NYC). This could be a Mashup Camp style ‘unconference’ event:

In contrast to events whose agendas are often determined 6-12 months in advance by people who aren’t very in touch with the information needs of the potential attendees, having the attendees determine the content at event time ensures both the relevance, timeliness, and vibrancy of that content. Instead of typical conference sessions where speakers or panels present to large audiences (often with PowerPoint presentations behind them), Mashup Camp involves leader-moderated discussions that everyone is free to contribute to…

Anyone interested?


Pronto to Take Over Ask Shopping Soon?

February 26, 2007

Pronto is powering the Shopping ‘tab’ on two of Ask’s search properties: Excite.com and iWon.com.

pronto powers iWon shopping search

Pronto powers Excite Shopping Search

It’s not like iWon and Excite get a ton of traffic, but I’m sure this means that Pronto is moving closer to replacing PriceGrabber on Ask’s Shopping section. Haven’t heard anything from either company to back up this statement, but I have a feeling this will happen well before the holiday shopping season.

Background: Why Pronto Will Succeed

PS. Pronto is also powering Lycos’ Shopping section.


Shmuel Tennenhaus in the NYTimes

February 26, 2007

I mentioned Shmuel in post about online videos 2 weeks ago, so it was nice to see him featured in Bob Tedeschi’s Ecommerce report this morning.

online videos


ShopStyle Takes The Oscar

February 26, 2007

In another life, I was an actor. The winner of last night’s Oscar for an Actor in a Leading Role, Forest Whitaker, even directed me in one of my first speaking roles in a movie.

With my interest in movies, I figured it was a great opportunity to see what the shopping comparison engines promoted in relation to the styles found on last night’s red carpet and the winning movies. It was not a pretty sight. I went to each site’s homepage and also clicked on the apparel and movie sections. Here’s a quick rundown of the nominees (I didn’t include sites like Glam or Fashion IQ which have great pictures and commentary, but no way to buy):

-PriceGrabber: No mention of the Oscars, although they did launch a new Spring Shopping Guide.
-Shopping.com: No mention of the Oscars.
-Shopzilla.com: No mention of the Oscars.
-Yahoo Shopping: No mention of the Oscars, although they did have a brief entry yesterday promoting Yahoo! Movies on the Yahoo! Shopping Blog.
-Google Base: No mention of the Oscars.
-Nextag: No mention of the Oscars.
-MSN Shopping: Oscar Nominated Films section, but with their editorial content (expert advice), I was really hoping for a fashion forward statement about the Oscars as opposed to Spring Fashion Trends 2007.
-Become: No mention of the Oscars, but a search for ‘movies’ returns The Departed, the winner of Best Picture, as the first result.
-Amazon/Shopbop: No mention of the Oscars.
-TheFind: Mention of ‘Pets on the Red Carpet‘, their spoof on the Oscar red carpet.
-Like.com: Below the fold likeness search suggestions for Jennifer Lopez’s purse, Penelope Cruz’s earrings, and Cameron Diaz’s shoes on the homepage, plus a special section for the Oscars.

Like.com oscar fashions

-Shopstyle: Sleek, clean, Oscar Night’s Stylebook section highlighting ensembles from last night.

shopstyle oscar fashion

So obviously I like what ShopStyle has presented, but there’s a question as to whether this type of merchandising really makes a difference. I think the answer is YES, but I have a feeling that many of the shopping comparison engines would say it doesn’t matter or at least that editorializing content like you see with ShopStyle is not scalable.

Most of the shopping engines look and feel the same. When the average Joe clicks through on an Adwords ad and then clicks out to a merchant, they have no idea which shopping engine they just used. Specialized editorial sections like Oscar fashion is one way to differentiate the site. And if you don’t have time to do it, team up with someone who does. Or you know, have you heard of that little thing called user generated content (UGC)?

It’s hard for me to effectively make this point when Shopping.com, Shopzilla, PriceGrabber, and NexTag are buzzing along creating nice value for their owners, but this is going to be the year when Google Base really eats into these companies’ businesses and when web 2.0/UGC ‘stuff’ becomes mainstream in the retail space.


Windows Live Shopping Beta Shut Down

February 21, 2007

Windows Live Shopping Beta has been shut down.

Windows Live Shopping Beta

The official word from the Marketplaces team:

Windows Live Shopping Beta and all associated Windows Live Shopping gadgets are being taken offline effective February 19th.

Windows Live Shopping Beta was launched as a technology showcase that paired the vast selection of MSN Shopping with some of the user interface enhancements provided by Windows Live services – Live gadgets, drag and drop, dynamic pages, etc.

This test enabled the shopping team to glean valuable insight into user behavior. These learnings are being incorporated into the team’s plans for future products. User-created content from Windows Live Shopping Beta (lists, guides, and reviews) will continue to be available on MSN Shopping.

MSN Shopping was and will continue to be the flagship product of our team. It receives the vast majority of user traffic and is the target of all on and off network promotion.

MSN Shopping offers a vast selection of 36 Million items from over 8,000 merchants in the US . In addition, it offers buying guides, editorial and user reviews, and helpful shopping tools to let users compare, save, and share their shopping choices.

This is a sad turn of events. I guess no one was really using Windows Live Shopping Beta, but the enhancements over MSN Shopping’s interface were significant. I really do hope that some of the features of Windows Live Shopping filter down to MSN Shopping or up to Product Search Beta. Or maybe I’m way too into the whole Web 2.0 craze and expect too much of my shopping experience…while MSN’s demographic might be a little more Web 1.0.

Ok, with MSN Shopping the focus and Windows Live Product Search now accepting feeds, I’m really waiting for MSN Shopping to provide real data feed support for all merchants. I probably get 10 merchants a month asking me how to get on MSN Shopping…unfortunately, the simple answer is to submit through MSN Shopping’s partners: Shopping.com and PriceGrabber.

Screenshot of the now defunct :( Windows Live Shopping Beta:
windows live shopping

Background…
In the middle of last year, I posted an entry entitled Ecommerce, Microsoft Style which discussed the differences between MSN Shopping, Windows Live Shopping and Windows Live Product Search. Shortly after, I interviewed Jim Barr, GM of Microsoft Marketplaces to get a little more color on the situation.


My Careless Blogging

February 16, 2007

Ok, in my post re-capping the Search SIG, I posted someone’s notes about the panel. You should know that the notes are not an official transcript.

I’ve already gotten a couple email comments pointing out inaccuracies with the notes, so here are a couple quick clean up notes:

-Yahoo Shopping’s representative also pointed out that “having Adsense on the page also helps to monetize unpaid listings”makes it sound like Yahoo! Shopping displays Adsense ads. It doesn’t. Yahoo! Shopping displays Yahoo! Search Marketing listings

-Some sites are java-heavy or completely in Flash. Makes you more reliant on crawling for those productsshould have been ‘more reliant on feeds for those products.’

It’s hard to quickly take word for word notes of panels. I want to thank the person who sent me the summary…it’s very helpful information. If you find any other problems, just comment here or on the other post.


88Slide Update, Online Videos

February 16, 2007

Remember my obsession with 88Slide?
$100 to reach 1500+ unique users – March 6, 2006
88Slide.com – Online Trivia – March 14, 2006
Dealhack’s 88Slide Sponsorship – Win an Ipod Nano – May 18, 2006
FanimeCon & Vloggercon – June 11, 2006
Evogear.com is on a Roll and on 88Slide – July 12, 2006

Well according to Jackson West at GigaOm, 88Slide just signed with Endeavor. My friend Noah Bonnett (worked with him 8 years ago at VarsityBooks.com) runs 88Slide through his Rock Creek Park Productions company.

If you’ve been thinking about jumping into the online video arena, you should give Noah a shout. He can either get your company/brand up and running on 88Slide or help you think through and create a larger concept…that’s what the Endeavor deal brings to the table…with any luck, we’ll see some big consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies spending real money in this space soon. Congrats, NB!

On another note, there are a ton of people out there experimenting with YouTube, Shmuly Tennenhaus, being one of the most colorful. His One Park Avenue Reality blog/video series was set up to get him on a reality show. That plan didn’t exactly work out, but he kept up the blogging/vlogging and has now launched his latest crusade, targeting Ari Gold for a guest spot on Entourage. Shmuly is an internet marketing guy, having gained some good skills at Ice.com, and I wouldn’t be surprised if all this online video experimentation turned into a legit business someday. If you’re looking for insight into the space, he’s another guy to contact.

Oh, and since this post is basically just a shout out to some friends in the online video space, I should also mention that my friend Mark Mannino is in charge of revenue (advertising), operations, and finance for MotionBox, a video sharing site. I’m sure Mark also has some ideas on how to make a splash in the online video space.

If you want an intro to any of these guys, just let me know (brian at comparisonengines dot com).


Shopping Search SIG Coverage

February 16, 2007

Thank you to…
-Yahoo! (especially Jeanne Condit & Havi Hoffman) for hosting the event and providing the munchies
-Beach for organizing the event
-David Weinrot (Shopzilla), Chris Saito (Yahoo! Shopping), Siva Kumar (TheFind), and Neil Mayle (BrowseGoods) for participating
-Everyone for attending!
-SD Forum & Jeff Clavier (the Chair of the Search SIG)
-and the Academy

Here’s some coverage of the event…

-DJCline
-Siva Kumar
-Freshelectrons (Havi helped launch Yahoo! Shopping back in ’98!)

Someone’s anonymous notes/thoughts…
SDForum ‘Search’ SIG meeting, at Yahoo Sunnyvale
Tuesday Feb 13, 2007

Moderator:
Brian Smith (www.comparisonengines.com)

Panel:
Chris Saito (Yahoo! Shopping)
David Weinrot (Shopzilla)
Siva Kumar (TheFind)
Neil Mayle (Dotted Pair)

Comments:
• Yahoo Sunnyvale is huge. Meeting held in Classroom C. Big enough to hold several hundred people. Maybe 150-200 there. The Shopzilla VP on the panel joked that his entire company could fit into it.

• My impression was that >50% of the people worked at Yahoo. They seemed older than the Googlers in general, and less cocky (not too hard to understand that, I guess).

• Session was led by Brian Smith of Comparison Engines. He was amusing and self-deprecatory – mentioned his background as a former stand-up comedian, said it was easy to be ‘the leading analyst in this space’ when you’re the only one.

• Some pretty funny technical problems, given where we were. Terrible feedback from the audio in the room, persisted for some time. Then the internet connection used for the demos was slow. When this happened during the Yahoo Shopping demo one wag suggested “Maybe it would run faster if we moved closer to Yahoo”.

• The Yahoo Shopping guy was trying to demo a results page, but no sooner had be started when he was interrupted by three huge pairs of disembodied legs dancing all over the page (a Circuit City ad). This unfortunately says a lot about Yahoo (and why I never use it).

• Shopzilla and Yahoo Shopping are conventional shopping comparison search engines. The Find is a start-up focusing on soft goods, has bigger pictures than the thumbnails shopping engines usually show. Dotted Pair has a uniquely visual approach – you look down on pictures of the products as if they were laid out on the floor of a gigantic aircraft hangar, and then zoom in on categories and eventually products in a Google Maps-like fashion.

• There was a discussion on crawling the web for price and product data versus feeds. Some of this, either for or by people unfamiliar with shopping search, was about the desirability of the one approach versus the other, as if they were exclusive or one was superior (not in my view a helpful or insightful perspective). Some more interesting observations though (phrases in quotes may be paraphrased):

- “You get more data from a crawl”. There’s often more information on the product web page than the merchant gets around to putting in his feed. You can get some or all of it if you take the time to direct your crawler accordingly.

- “Some sites are java-heavy or completely in Flash”. Makes you more reliant on crawling data feeds for those products.

- “You have to be careful what you mean by ‘crawling’ these days, it’s not always the same thing”. I think what TheFind’s CEO meant was that crawlers are increasingly sophisticated robots, don’t necessarily break with every change on their target sites.

- “Crawling throws up a frequency issue”. Some supplier sites have more unique product offerings than you can crawl every day, so you have to adopt a selective targeting and scheduling strategy.

- “Some offers [you acquire by crawling] may be ones the retailer doesn’t want to appear on your price comparison site”

- “More feeds are becoming available all the time, but you still have to make decisions about people who don’t have feeds”.

- Shopzilla’s VP made a point about how concentrated the demand can be (and presumably therefore how important it is to focus on getting a tiny subset of the offers right) – currently it seems that a single Canon digital camera accounts for over 4% of Shopzilla’s entire volume in the digital camera category.

- “Shopzilla is now all feeds [no crawling at all]“.

- I think myself you have to recognize that people start off using crawled data because that’s what they’ve got. Feeds come later on, when you’ve attracted enough users that the suppliers will pay attention to you, and become more important subsequently when you can begin to influence what data comes to you in the feed.

Read the rest of this entry »


Management Changes at Shopzilla

February 13, 2007

I’ve been thinking about this post for a couple days, and I’ll add more in a separate post soon, but considering that the news just hit the wires, I wanted to let you know that Farhad Mohit and John Phelps have announced that they are leaving Shopzilla.

Here’s the press release announcing the departures and the naming of Bill Glass as the new president.

PS. Thanks to everyone who broke the news to me over the last week…just didn’t want to post anything prior to the official release.


Shopping Path’s CrispyShop

February 13, 2007

I’ve known about ShoppingPath for a couple months, but Guilherme Leal inventor and co-founder of the company was putting on some finishing touches. The site is in Beta, but I thought it was now worth a mention. ShoppingPath has launched a site called CrispyShop.

CrispyShop takes another spin on visual shopping, graphically displaying products by price, popularity or by feature. As a reader commented yesterday, BrowseGoods is great for products that people buy based on appearance more than features. I’m not sure if that’s completely true, but I admit that I’m not going to use BrowseGoods to pick out my next iPod or TV. However, I might use CrispyShop…at least as a starting point.

crispyshop shoppingpath

CrispyPath CrispyPath is grabbing Yahoo! Shopping results through Yahoo! Shopping Web Services and organizing the information on a single interactive chart. Maybe it’s my undergrad degree in economics, but the UI just makes sense to me…similar to Yahoo! Finance Beta or Google Finance clicking with me.

Now I’m waiting for the comment that these new UIs don’t matter. They are just simple mashups of data that’s already out there…affiliate sites that will never get anywhere. How do they get traffic? I’m not claiming that sites like BrowseGoods or ShoppingPath (or ShopStyle) will take over the world tomorrow, but the regular old shopping comparison engine or etail layout hasn’t changed that much in the last 5 years. Web 2.0 has infiltrated other verticals, but shopping still seems almost immune to the changes. I don’t think that can last much longer. Shopzilla, Shopping.com, NexTag, Yahoo! Shopping, and PriceGrabber might dominate the shopping comparison engine space, but I think it’s critical for them to start thinking about how to better display their data and more importantly, provide an incredible user experience. That’s what these new guys are doing…they’re piggy-backing off of all the hard work the shopping engines have put into aggregating and organizing products and focusing 1000% on building the best shopping experience.

Comparison shopping is not going away, but the way people approach comparison shopping will change. That’s why I like that eBay, Amazon, Shopping.com, and Yahoo! Shopping are out there with good APIs that let entrepreneurs launch sites like Sprenzy, CrispyPathCrispyShop, or BrowseGoods. Not all of these affiliate sites will make it, but opening up web services allows the big shopping comparison engines to get their feet wet and see what sticks with shoppers.


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