The savviest Web merchants,
those looking to expose more
consumers to more of their
products more often, rely
heavily on a broad distribution
of their product feeds.
So what is a data feed? Think of it
as a virtual catalog of products. This
compilation of product inventory
information includes important details
including product identifiers
such as name, description, price,
availability, paths to product images
and pages, and comes in the form
of files such as XML or CSV.
While certainly not a new promotional
technique in any sense of
the word, product feeds have become
a mainstay of e-commerce marketing (and for affiliate
marketers as well) and it looks to stay that way for the foreseeable
Distributing Product Feeds
For Internet retailers, the vendor landscape of comparison
shopping engines (CSEs), those destinations where product
feeds are distributed and managed, is by all accounts full but
continues to grow, keeping pace with the ’Net’s evolution itself.
Most merchants are likely familiar with the leading comparison
shopping destinations including Google Product Search,
NexTag, PriceGrabber, Bing Shopping, Shopping.com, Amazon
Product Ads, Shopzilla, Become, Pronto and TheFind, but
there are others. Many others, in fact.
For example, savvy merchants are utilizing some relatively
obscure networks for added exposure including
Buy.com, Sears.com, NewEgg Marketplace and Underbid,
which all work on a cost-per-acquisition basis. Merchants
with product feed management experience are also venturing
into affiliate networks. Providers such as LinkShare, Commission
Junction, ShareaSale, LinkConnecter, AffiliateFuture,
AvantLink and ClixGalore, among others, all provide merchants
with a way to distribute their feeds to qualified website
affiliates and publishers who in turn promote products to
consumers visiting their own sites.
The Demand for Better Feeds
With so many options for merchants, however, and with the
many complexities surrounding the actual process of working
with data feeds, venturing into this promotional type can be
overwhelming in both cost and time spent on management —
which can be immense. When coupled with continuing technological
and industry advancements and improvements, it
has kept many merchants at arm’s length. For many, it remains
something that can not be ventured into casually.
For example, late August 2011 saw NexTag release brandlevel
bidding functionality within its Merchant Dashboard bidding
tool. Merchants cannot only manage their bids by
category now but target specific brands as well. Perennial CSE
leader Shopzilla added several new biddable categories in the
past quarter, and Bing Shopping added several new search refinements,
including vastly improved “sale” filters and shopping
Google also announced several important changes to its
product search feed specification which went into effect in late
September 2011. If you’re an Internet retailer and use Google
Product Search as a channel to promote products, these developments
should be top of mind — primarily because of the
sheer volume of the Google Product Search. The changes relate
primarily to providing shoppers with more accurate and
“fresher” information. Google is now requiring merchants to
show the availability of products, include the appropriate
Google product category, and is also making the image link
mandatory as well. For retailers selling apparel, merchants will
need to include information such as size and color as well as
for whom the product is designed (age and gender).
As consumers look for the very best deals on the products
they want, comparison shopping engines are retooling their
interfaces and their services to provide users with an experience
that aims toward and supports conversion.
Just Outsource It
When you bundle the many options merchants have at their
disposal to promote feeds, with the constant rate of change
of these services and the Web as a
whole, it’s no wonder the most sophisticated
and savvy merchants outsource
their data feed management.
Merchants interested in distributing
their product feeds must face a harsh
reality — the work that goes into it can
be cumbersome if not downright tedious.
Merchants going it alone must be
registered with each and every shopping
engine they want their products to
appear on, they must maintain their
data feeds, reloading data daily or as
necessary. They must also understand
the various formats each shopping engine
requires such as naming conventions
and data-feed specifications.
Keeping track of performance is another
obligation most merchants don’t
think about and likely where many fail.
Fortunately, there are many vendors
which support merchants’ interest in distributing
their product feeds. ChannelAdvisor
and Mercent are used by
many of the Web’s most successful
merchants, but there are many others including
FusePump and Channel Intelligence.
What these solutions providers offer
to merchants is a simpler way to manage
their product feed distribution. So what
is it that they actually do? On the whole, the process includes feed normalization for different CSEs and
affiliate networks, appropriate and optimal category selection,
and support for the maintenance of other mandatory feed elements
including SKU’s product descriptions, a variety of image
sizes, stock availability, price, search terms and even currency,
industry-specific product identifiers such as UPC or ISBN and
the last time the feed was updated.
In the End, There Was Data
Internet retailers avoiding distribution of their product feeds
are missing out on more website traffic, as well as more sales
and revenue. With a solid understanding of the e-commerce
market landscape, however, Web-based merchants can be on
the fast track to greater exposure and profits.
About the Author: Peter Prestipino is the Editor-In-Chief of Website Magazine. A long-time Internet
marketer with over twelve years of experience, Prestipino is a regular
speaker on Web technology and entrepreneurship, the author of Web 360:
The Fundamentals of Web Success, and an expert on
a variety of Web-related topics including the development, deployment and
promotion of Internet properties.