Specialized shopping search engines make it easy for searchers to research and buy products -- but they're also a powerful and cost-effective customer acquisition channel for merchants.
A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference in Boston, MA, March 4-6, 2003.
Shopping search engines make it easy for people to find information about products for sale online. Many of these search engines offer specialized features that allow shoppers to compare product types, pricing, and online stores across the Web. In this session, attendees learned how special shopping search engines were created and how content from ecommerce or merchant sites cam be included in them.
Shopping Search Engines
According to a Nielsen/Netratings report, DealTime is currently the sixth largest shopping destination on the Web. Iggy Fanlo, President and COO of DealTime stated that they use two parameters for: product selection and merchant selection.
Product selection refers to product features, product comparisons, user reviews, and price range. Merchant selection refers to brand, reputation, product availability, and delivered price (including tax and shipping).
"While price is a parameter," said Fanlo, "it is not as big as the others. We find that only 3-4% of our users do sorts by price/total price."
DealTime divides searches into two broadly receiving categories. "The first category is called 'productized' or single-model search results," said Fanlo. "When a person is looking for a unique product, we refine results by grab by price range, features, and comparing products."
The second type of search is the "dynamic navigation" search, which DealTime uses across all product categories. "This places emphasis on showing available categories along with the main search, allowing for further refinement," he said. "Each time a customer narrows his search down, the customer can explore the richness of the database through breadcrumb trails. Customers can look for things by attributes, while doing comparison shopping."
PriceGrabber.com is a comparison shopping web site which offers visitors all sorts of pre-sales information so they can make the most objective purchasing decision, including product reviews, specifications, images, and other related information.
PriceGrabber powers over 200 other web sites with comparison shopping functionality. These sites vary from portal sites (like AskJeeves and AOL), to enthusiast sites (like Acoustics and Imaging Resource), to popular magazines (like PC World & PC Magazine). "We fully customize our functionality to the look and feel of the co-brand site," said CEO of PriceGrabber, Tamim Mourad. "We can also integrate our content onto a co-brand site, allowing for a seamless shopping experience."
"Our marketing strategy is to provide the merchant with a cost-effective solution to acquire customers at a very cost-effective ROI," said Mourad.
Shoppers can search for either a specific product or by category. They can also search by product name, manufacturer name, part number, UPC #, ISDN, and other product-related keywords.
Category-related search can be narrowed by (multiple) attribute filters. "Users can read product reviews by other users or leave their own review," said Mourad. "Users can also see side-by-side comparisons of retailers and product specifications."
Once users determine their product of interest, they are shown a list of all sellers for that product. However, beyond just providing them a price for each seller, PriceGrabber.com will also calculate for them the applicable sales tax and shipping cost.
Mourad said there is a misconception that the lowest price wins the most referrals. "Less than 20% of our users select the merchant with the lowest price," he said. "Users place more emphasis on the quality of service and the reliability of the merchant, which is usually expressed in the merchant's user reviews."
Optimizing Sites for Shopping Search Engines
Laura Thieme, President and Founder of Bizresearch.com, does a lot of ecommerce marketing for small-to-medium size businesses and presented some of the advantages and disadvantages of shopping search engines.
Thieme believes that shopping search engines are formidable players in attracting traffic, based on a Nielsen Netratings October 2002 report. "There are a lot of benefits of shopping search engines, such as PriceGrabber, DealTime, MySimon, Yahoo," she said. "I am a huge fan of these programs. Consumers can see everything in one place: multiple vendors, merchant ratings, etc. Some of the programs even have an online calculator that factors in shipping, rating reviews, out-of-stock/in-stock status."
However, she also believes that the major search engines (crawler-based search engines) and directories (human-based search engines) do not promote shopping search as well as they could. "Search engines that reap so much benefit from advertising," she said, "should consider educating people on how to use their shopping search engines and promoting them more to let people know that they exist. If there is more awareness of them, they will be used more."
Gary McEldowney, Marketing Director of AllergyBuyersClub.com, shared his experiences with submitting a data feed to shopping search sites.
AllergyBuyersClub.com sells products that help allergy sufferers and a whole range of healthy home products. The site provides independent product reviews and ratings, comparisons, and analysis of all products on their site. "Visitors can view the top products, including the minuses as well as the pluses of our products," said McEldowney. "Some manufacturers aren't happy about that, but we want to make sure we are giving the customer the best shopping experience."
According to McEldowney, AllergyBuyersClub.com is an Internet pure-play. "We don't have a catalog. All of our sales are online," he said. "We have been profitable since Day One, which I attribute to search engine optimization (SEO)."
In conclusion, McEldowney emphasized that people who frequent shopping sites are savvy shoppers. "They click more often and comparison shop," he said, "and more clicks add to your costs. Make sure your shopping search investment can handle those additional clicks."
Grant Crowell is the CEO of Grantastic Designs, Inc, (http://www.grantasticdesigns.com/) founded in 1993 in Honolulu. He has 15 combined years of experience in the fields print and online design, newspaper journalism, public relations, and publications.
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