Sears Marketplace recently formerly announced the launch of its marketplace. Overnight, Sears Marketplace had 10m items available from over 1500 sellers, according to the website.
When I saw the number, I knew that they didn’t yet have 1500 direct seller relationships, but rather syndicated content from one or more shopping engines like Shopping.com. And I didn’t give it much more thought. That was a mistake.
While syndication deals are the norm for many shopping engines, syndicating product offerings to CNET is much different from syndicating product offerings to a brand name retail site like Sears.com. And this is where the shit hit the fan. Large retailers with big brand names suddenly found themselves on a site (Sears.com) and had no idea how it happened.
This has been a long time problem in the industry as the major shopping engines don’t publish a list of their partners. I’ve been pushing for this transparency for a long time. The partner networks should be run similar to Google’s content network so merchants have visibility into click-through rates, conversion rates, and ROI/ROAS/CPA by partner and the ability to optimize which partners get which offers. But in general, while merchants have complained to the shopping engines about this lack of transparency, there’s been no bite to the bark. Until now.
As stated in this post by PM Digital:
The Sears Marketplace situation is new territory and a game changer. It can no longer be business as usual with CSEs and blind networks unless they make substantial changes to their I/Os that address the major issues and risks.
We saw many upscale brands running on Sears Marketplace yesterday. They are slowly coming down.
It’s hard to believe that the various players involved with the Sears launch underestimated how other brands would feel. But even more unsettling is how some folks thought they could bypass the types of discussions strategic partners must always have to collaborate and cooperate for a mutually agreeable outcome.
Since the news broke, not only have merchants asked to be pulled from Sears Marketplace, but they’re also forcing the shopping engines to disclose their partner networks. This is a great step forward for the industry, and I strongly encourage the shopping engines to be extremely transparent. If they don’t offer visibility, they will lose the big name, big brand merchants. If they do offer visibility, they have the opportunity to establish a strong trust and partnership with retailers, which has been missing from this industry.
Yes, it might be painful because the shopping engines could have a lot of not so ‘clean’ partners, but the alternative is that they loose the majority of smart IR 500 retailers. And if that happens, they don’t have a good consumer offering and will not succeed. Are you going to visit a comparison shopping engine which doesn’t list Best Buy, Williams Sonoma, Macy’s, and Bloomingdale’s? Probably not. Especially when it’s so easy to just start your search on Google and be directed to Google Shopping, which will list all those retailers.