Comparison Shopping Engines: The Underdog of Marketing Channels for Online Retailers

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You’re an online retailer. Business is OK, maybe good, but it can be better. You’ve been exploring new marketing channels that can potentially boost your brand exposure and increase your revenues. If this is you, consider the viability of the often overlooked and under appreciated online marketing channel: comparison shopping engines (CSEs).

They’re essentially sites where thousands of retailers pay to list their products because of the massive amount of shoppers they attract. Basically all of the major CSEs function on a Cost per Click (CPC) model, where a retailer will pay a CPC, typically from $0.20 to $1, for every time a shopper clicks on a product listing and is linked back to the retailer’s website.

Shopping engine marketing is a proven marketing channel for online retailers, especially with the meteoric rise of Google Shopping. CSE campaigns are practically essential on the road to maximizing your business’s online presence and are a big-time business commodity when it comes to the crucial and highly lucrative Holiday Shopping Season.

Google Shopping Results

Figure 1. A Google Shopping Results Page

Getting Started with Shopping Engine Marketing

If you want to get started with shopping engine marketing, the first step is to assess your resources. Not all retailers are compatible with comparison shopping engine campaigns either because they don’t have the time to manage them, the personnel to spare for management, the funds to allocate towards a CPC budget, or the expertise. Additionally, a given retailer must have a solid amount of products to list on CSEs, and this may be around 500 total but you may end up listing less, depending on the specific CSE. Take a step back and evaluate your business’s readiness to undertake a significant marketing campaign by:

  1. Assessing your budget: Can you allocate around $2000-$3000 a month for your CPC budget? You may find yourself spending significantly less if your product listings don’t get a lot of traffic at first, or contrarily, you may exceed this when your product listings eventually blow up and attract a lot of shoppers.
  2. Setting aside the time: To offer a clichéd simile, a comparison shopping engine campaign is like a baby you must nurture regularly, but when it grows up, the results will be very rewarding. Ideally, you will manage your campaigns every day so you can make required alterations as quickly as possible. The more diligent and consistent you are with your management, the more efficient and cost-effective your campaigns will be.
  3. Allocating the manpower: Since they’re a time commitment, you need to dedicate employees to manage your CSE campaigns. The expertise will come with time and research, but typically one employee will probably be able to handle all of your campaigns (typically 2-6) if that is he/she’s primary responsibility.

This may seem more like a burden than a financial boon, but the same criteria holds true for diving into any new marketing channel. You may question why to even bother with CSEs. Well, the reality is that many online retailers either neglect CSE campaigns or manage their existing campaigns poorly. This really leaves some valuable, rather open real estate for a given retailer to make a significant impression in.

On top of it, most CSEs, particularly Google Shopping, allow you to micro-manage your listings at the product level, and this allows you more control over your desired ROI. Most importantly, CSEs are a unique online marketing channel that, with effective management, will not only increase traffic to your website and attract new customer audiences but also directly function towards increasing revenues.

CSEs: Multi-Channel Marketing

One of the great features about shopping engine marketing is that it inherently does not limit you to just one channel as a means of driving relevant traffic. Online retailers can choose to have just 1 campaign or potentially 8 or 9. Google Shopping, PriceGrabber, Shopzilla, Shopping.com, Nextag, and Amazon Product Ads are all prominent CSEs and they all attract different audiences that have different purchase behaviors.

Comparison Shopping Engine Revenue Rankings

Figure 2. Q4 2012 CSE Revenue Rankings

After assessing your compatibility with CSEs, the next step is setting up a merchant account. Here are a couple links for setting them up:

Components of CSE Campaigns

There are 2 primary components to CSE management and 1 secondary. Here’s the overview:

  1. Data Feeds: After setting up your merchant account, you’ll need to send the CSE your inventory information. This is your data feed, also known as an xml feed, shopping feed, or product feed. You can typically export your feed to a CSE via your store platform, whether it’s Magento, Volusion, Shopify, Yahoo! Stores, or Netsuite. Each CSE, however, has their own unique data feed specifications.
  2. Bid Management: After setting up your account and depositing ad spend into a CSE, managing your bids is an essential part of your CSE campaign that needs to be done regularly, if not daily. This aspect alone, especially given the fact that Google Shopping, PriceGrabber, and Shopzilla allow for product-level bidding, makes CSEs a unique marketing channel in that the merchant has the lion’s share of control over its profitability.
  3. Site Optimization: Because receiving clicks on a CSE will direct the shopper to your home store, you need to ensure that your site is conversion rate optimized (CRO). Like with any new marketing channel endeavor, your efforts may be in vain if your website depreciates your credibility so much that you miss out on a potential conversion.
Shopzilla Bidding Page for Merchants

Figure 3. Shopzilla Bidding Page for Merchants

Ensuring Long-Term Success

Like with any process, CSE campaign management will become systematic and more efficient the more you do it. Like I said earlier, a retailer will miss out on the benefits of shopping engine marketing either because they don’t have the expertise or the resources, but expertise will come and tangible results are worth the time and budget investment.

Don’t be overwhelmed, exploring new marketing channels will have a learning curve no matter which route you take.

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