Comparison Shopping Engines: A Retailers' Best Friend

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For building brand awareness, shopping search engines are a retailer’s best bet

As the online shopping experience becomes more social every day, it is important for retailers and their products to be seen in all the right places. High on the list of those destinations are comparison shopping search engines, on which consumers are increasingly relying to drive their purchasing decisions.

With more than 100 million shoppers utilizing comparison search engines each month, e-commerce merchants whose products are not listed on these sites are essentially passing up additional sales. But it is an opportunity that can be tapped into easily, and often with surprising results.

“We suddenly started to notice a lot of orders coming through Google Products,” says Shannon Wu-Lebron, head of operations for Viking.com, an office supply retailer that relaunched its brand this year. “We were delighted. It’s helped get the Viking name out there and brought us a lot of quality traffic and repeat customers. As we talk now about how to really build the business, we are definitely going to pursue more comparison shopping sites.” While there are hundreds to choose from on the Web today, Google Products is the most-used comparison shopping engine according to the July 2010 rankings by CPC Strategy, a firm that helps retailers sell through comparison sites. The other leaders include NexTag, PriceGrabber, TheFind, Shopping, Amazon Product Ads, Shopzilla, Bing/Yahoo Shopping, Pronto, Become and Smarter.

Some comparison sites are free while others charge retailers a cost-per-click fee to list their products. But the impact of being seen on comparison shopping engines can be felt in a variety of ways, giving merchants one of the best ROIs in the e-commerce industry today.

“If Google is Madison Avenue and Bing is Rodeo Drive, then BizRate, NexTag and the other comparison sites are every other street corner out there,” says Sean Cook, CEO of e-commerce platform provider ShopVisible. “The goal for retailers is to be seen on every corner possible, and the next logical place to look after organic search is comparison shopping engines.”

In addition to CPC Strategy, ShopVisible, Shopatron, Mercent and Channel Advisor are just some of the qualified ecommerce solutions providers that can guide merchants through their integrations with comparison sites. But there are some basic guidelines to follow that will yield the best results whether you seek outside help or elect to do the footwork yourself. Below are some proven strategies for working with comparison shopping search engines.

Don’t be timid
If this article prompts you to explore comparison shopping sites for the first time, that’s a great first step. But you will be selling yourself short if you limit your participation to just one or two search engines. If your budget is a concern, try a handful of the free sites first and see how it goes.

“Just listing with one engine is not enough,” says Greg Haslam of Become.com. “Some are better than others at accomplishing certain things for retailers, but a little research and a minimal investment can get your foot in the door somewhere. Then you’ll have a data feed that you can send out to other sites, and there’s no reason to stop at just one.”

Carefully prepare your data
Make this the most thoughtful part of the process and be absolutely sure that you provide the best available product images, error-free product data, accurate titles with separate and detailed product descriptions, customer ratings and reviews, and unique product codes such as UPCs or manufacturer numbers that will map together in the search indexes.

Offer special promotions
Discount coupons and special-offer decals have a successful track record on comparison sites because they stand out from the crowd and invite consumers to engage with them. Many of the search engines now accept gift cards on their product listings and those have also been a profitable strategy for retailers.

Watch your stock closely
You wouldn’t be the first retailer to be surprised by the success you are enjoying on comparison engines, only to run out of a hot-selling item. But don’t — it’s bad for business. Be sure not to list any products until you are certain they are not only in stock but plentiful, and always keep a watchful eye on your inventory.

Analyze and compare
Now it’s the merchant’s turn for some comparison and analysis. After your products have been listed for a while with a variety of search engines, identify what is selling and on which sites, what is not selling and where, and make the necessary adjustments. Many of the sites like Become.com not only have a full range of metrics to guide you in this process, but also dedicated customer service teams to help you get the most out of their services.

By Linc Wonham, Website Magazine Associate Editor

 

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