Shopping has emerged as one of the most important vertical categories in the specialized search arena, for searchers, advertisers and merchants alike. This week we take a look at what's new and improved in shopping and product comparison search engines.
According to market research firm Hitwise, the market share of visits to the top comparison shopping sites increased by 22% this year, taking this market share directly from the major general purpose search engines. What accounts for the surging popularity of the shopping search sites? "Users are becoming more sophisticated," said Bill Tancer, vice president of research at Hitwise.
While this is clearly a major factor in the increasing popularity of shopping search, new features and content offered by the services, as well as increasingly sophisticated promotional and merchandising options for retailers also play a key role. Shopping search services have largely become one-stop portals for researching products, finding bargains and selecting merchants to buy from.
"I think it marks a whole new shift in the way people are shopping online," said Tancer.
Shopping Search Leaders
Just how much traffic are shopping search sites receiving? Hitwise estimates that visits to the top comparison shopping sites accounted for 5% of US visits to all shopping and classifieds web sites for the week ending November 20, 2004. This amounted to 0.4% of total Internet traffic, a huge amount for a specialized search category.
According to Hitwise, the leaders in the shopping search category in the U.S. are:
- Yahoo Shopping
- MSN eShop
- Calibex (owned by NexTag)
- Dealtime (owned by Shopping.com)
- Price Watch
- Shopzilla (BizRate's new name/service)
Hitwise's numbers do not always agree with estimates from other measurement services such as comScore Networks and Nielsen//NetRatings. Each shopping search site trumpets the traffic numbers that show its own service in the most favorable light.
Nonetheless, clear leaders have emerged, and the Hitwise rankings give a good indicator of who they are.
A Big Holiday Season Predicted
According to Jupiter Research, online holiday sales will reach $21.6 billion in 2004, a 19 percent increase over sales during the same period in 2003. Jupiter says that most consumers use the Internet when holiday gift shopping to get gift ideas, seek low prices, and plan their budget. All of the major online shopping services provide ready, easy to use tools for accomplishing these goals.
What do people buy online? In addition to traditional online favorites like books, music and electronics, comScore Networks says that the fastest growing categories are:
- Jewelry & Watches, $739 million, a 67% increase over last year
- Furniture, Appliances & Equipment $1.7 billion, a 58% increase over last year
- Computer Software (ex. PC Games), $1.2 billion, a 43% increase over last year
- Flowers, Greetings & Misc Gifts, $1.1 billion, a 43% increase over last year
- Home & Garden, $14 billion, a 28% increase over last year
An Emerging Trend: Search Locally, Buy Locally
While the major shopping search engines all tend to focus on online retailers, a new type of shopping search is emerging that's a compelling alternative for many people. These services let you search for local bricks and mortar retailers that carry the products you're looking for.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mylene Mangalindan describes this new trend in Internet Shopping ... in Person. The new services are particularly appealing for bulky or difficult to ship items such as cars, furniture, electronics, computers, pets and so on. A few notable services:
LiveDeal is free to both buyers and sellers. The service has listings from both established merchants as well as individuals, effectively serving as an alternative to local classified ads in many cases.
LiveDeal offers a number of optional services for merchants such as enhanced listings, featured categories and so on. The site also offers a bulk upload tool for merchants with many product offerings.
ShopLocal is available on more than 150 of the nation's most popular newspaper sites, portals and shopping sites, and directly via ShopLocal.com
Merchants can learn more about ShopLocal's services by filling out a request for information form.
StepUp.com allows you to search for a product and then have the option of buying the product online or from a physical store in your vicinity.
For merchants, StepUp.com offers a free Member Store Program that lets you list products regardless of whether you have a web site.
ClickZ's Pamela Parker has more about StepUp.com: Start-Up Steps Up to Local Product Search Challenge.
Online yellow pages providers are also getting into the shopping search game. Last week, Verizon launched an enhanced version of its Superpages web site, with shopping search provided by Shopping.com, in addition to an eBay search and Verizon's own customized product and services search powered by FAST.
Other online yellow pages providers also offer shopping search options, though at this point, most are tepid compared to the dedicated shopping search portals. Stay tuned, though—next year I expect the shopping search space to have evolved considerably.
Shopping Search Week
Here's the lineup for this week:
New to the world of shopping search? Check out Shopping Search Engines at Search Engine Watch for more information and links to all of our articles on these product search and comparison services.
Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Shopping Search Arrives as an Important Vertical discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.