By now I’ve hope you have had a chance to read my datafeed management strategy “The Kitchen Sink” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) or caught the material at one of the industry conferences. Assuming you have, you know I am an advocate of simplifying Comparison Shopping program management by using one feed, inclusive of all products and data, to support over a dozen partners.
Unknown to most retailers is how Comparison Shopping Engines like Shopping.com, BizRate, Yahoo! Shopping, and CNET manage their catalog of products.
Ignore for a moment that you, the marketer, are sending an optimized, accurate feed to these partners so consumers can find your products when they search; sure, CSE Search is an important part of the value these engines provide but fundamentally Comparison Shopping Engines prioritize the customers’ experience through comparison of the products and prices you, we, make available. To support this process, CSEs must diligently maintain a catalog of products (visible to you through their “Product Pages” “Buyer’s Guides” “Product Detail Pages” or whatever your favorite partner calls them). Should they ever falter, overlook some skus, or mismatch product data, it doesn’t matter if your datafeed is as perfect as a sunrise in Honolulu, your products won’t be marketed effectively to your customers.
Imagine you sell only 2 skus:
1. Green Widget Alpha
2. Blue Widget Beta
You have spent many hours late at night ensuring the skus are in your feed, titles are accurate and include a call to action, descriptions are keyword rich, and promotions and offers flow freely to your partners. Unbeknownst to you, the new CSE on the block, BizWikiZillaShopper.com, doesn’t have SKU 987abc in their catalog.
Customers will be able to search for and find your Blue Widget, if they are looking for it, but the CSE won’t promote it (editorially) and it is not available for comparison against similar products. This sku will not receive as much visibility nor traffic from the CSE and you are left scratching your head as to why your competitive pricing, aggressive offers, and optimized feed are not delivering results.
This is a serious problem for manufacturers and retailers alike. Nike, HP, Gap, and Levi’s all suffer in that products are not promoted, customers are unable to research or consider them, and brands miss opportunities to gain share against their competitors. Products available from retailers like Best Buy, Target, and JCPenny are not communicated to shoppers and buyers are not given the chance to consider prices, offers, or shopping channels.
There is a solution. Talk with your partners, screen their catalogs for your top selling products, and understand how their catalog is managed and kept up to date.
For many of us, this is easier than it sounds. You will likely find that all CSEs are fed product information from the same source, a data vendor that manages product content and distributes it, for a fee, to the industry. Consumer Electronics and Computer companies should find that source is likely CNET; rather, a division of CNET which simply feeds product data to Ingram Micro, Tech Data, the CSEs, and other interested parties.
Demand improvements. As a brand you certainly have some weight to throw around in expecting Comparison Shopping Engines feature your products. Don’t misunderstand me, you should find that Comparison Shopping sites are anxious and more than willing to help ensure their catalog is comprehensive and accurate.
Retailers shouldn’t even consider that they have less clout, less influence; keep in mind that shopping online is no different than offline with the majority of sales flowing through those established retail names. With your volume and share of online shopping, you can expect more from the Comparison Shopping channel.
I’d love to hear from you, let me know if you find holes in your product catalog and what you learn of through whom and how CSEs receive product data.