The shopping engines produce incredible results for the vast majority of merchants that SingleFeed works with. However, I’ve long been critical of the basic tools the shopping engines provide their advertisers. I guess I shouldn’t complain – the lack of transparency the shopping engines provide and the poor toolset to manage marketing spends (among many other things) creates an opportunity for SingleFeed, ChannelAdvisor, ChannelIntelligence, Mercent, Merchant Advantage, and the many new data feed management services popping up.
But at some point the shopping engines have to get with the program. I applaud the shopping engines for working on building a better shopping experience. And it’s nice to see Shopping.com finally providing SKU level reporting and pushing merchants to sign up for CPA based listings, but for the last 2.5 years, the statements I’ve been getting from Shopping.com basically said that merchants don’t want, need, or have the ability to understand SKU level data. At the same time, many shopping engines say that APIs are on the ToDo list, but not a priority.
It’s no wonder that Smarketers (as Omniture calls smart marketers) like JP Werlin, David Rodnitzky, Jeff Molander, Alan Rimm Kaufman, and many others have said the shopping engines are in the dark ages compared to Google Adwords.
David Rodnitzky had a good post on the subject a couple weeks back, talking about ‘bad clicks’ on the shopping engines.
In a The Sky is Falling moment, I even got ChannelAdvisor and Channel Intelligence to agree on something when I first voiced my opinion on SKU level tracking last year (see the comments).
I don’t like making generalizations or beating a dead cat (or is it horse?) but the big boys in the shopping comparison engine world are on the cusp of a potentially disastrous holiday shopping season. Every year when the shopping engines increase their click costs in November/December, merchants cry foul. At the same time, Google & Yahoo! have the potential to limit the shopping engines’ exposure in their organic and paid listings: Google has said that it doesn’t believe in sending a searcher to another search results page and most of the shopping search engines make a good portion of their revenue from Google AdSense or Yahoo! Publisher Network ads, but both Google and Yahoo don’t think pages with tons of syndicated ads are that relevant. And most importantly, Google Base (if listers submit properly) rocks and will only get increased exposure through Google’s Universal Search initiative.
Lack of transparency + fed up merchants + decreased traffic from Google + Google Base = Trouble…with a capital T that rhymes with G and that stands for Google (adopted from the Music Man song, Ya Got Trouble – it’s a holiday, give me a break!).
Now this isn’t a completely gloom and doom post. The shopping engines have built an incredibly valuable shopping experience. I can point to positive news coming out of Shopping.com, Shopzilla, NexTag, Yahoo! Shopping, PriceGrabber, Smarter.com, and Become. And with big corporate parents like Scripps, eBay, and Experian Interactive, many of these shopping engines will continue to thrive for a long time. I’m just hoping that a couple courageous execs at the shopping engines take this post to heart and produce a Jerry Maguire type Mission Statement or Yahoo-esque Peanut Butter Manifesto as a wake up call for change.
I owe my livelihood over the last 3 years to the shopping engines and root for you guys everyday because you really do produce great results for merchants and a valuable service for consumers. As always, I’m here to talk about what I’m seeing in the industry and help you succeed – I have a unique point of view as an Analyst, Merchant, Consumer, and Aggregator. Call, email, or IM. I’m not here to ‘dig up dirt’ as one PR executive commented last year. In my reply to that comment (PR In the Age of the Blogosphere), the most encouraging response I got came from Nasser Manesh of Frucall:
As a person representing a business/service, I have to say that I prefer criticism to sugercoating. It’s always nice to hear the good side of things, but at the same time the only way to grow and improve is by listening to what others see as problems, issues, and shortcomings about our service. Yes, it may hurt the ego, but if we look beyond that and try to be objective, nothing comes out of it but good. Even if the criticism is baseless, it’s still a chance to review and make sure that we have done our best.
I hope the new and old management at the shopping engines feel the same way.