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Rounding out our eCommerce week is a dive into Comparison Shopping Engines.

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If you’re looking to expand your digital marketing retail program beyond text ads, or you’ve already begun to use Google Shopping, you might be thinking about adding Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs) into the mix. CSEs can be a great channel for eCommerce retailers to showcase their product offerings to customers who are ready to purchase and shop around for the best deal.

A CSE results page

CSEs compile product information from retailers via data feeds and show that information to consumers on their site, or on one of the partner sites in the engine’s network. Retailers compete in an auction to show their products for a query, with most CSEs running on a cost-per-click (CPC) model. When users perform a search, they are shown relevant products and can then compare the prices and offers of different merchants. After clicking on a product, users are taken directly to the product page on the retailer’s site. This is where retailers will be charged for the click.

CSE users tend to be closer to the bottom of the funnel; these users have already determined the product(s) they want to purchase and are now looking for the best price. However, they haven’t yet decided where to purchase. So, it’s important to note a certain amount of brand awareness gained through a CSE by getting in front of those who didn’t think to check your site in the first place. (More on that later.)

Expanding to the CSE space makes sense for most retailers, although you want to be aware of a few key issues that could lower your chance of success here. If your business has any of the following characteristics, CSEs may not be the best platform for you, but don’t be afraid to test.

High Price Point

If your prices are consistently higher than the competition, the platform might not make sense, as most CSE shoppers are looking for the lowest prices. If your business provides another value proposition, like free shipping (although many retailers provide that now), a higher average price may not be a deal-breaker.

Low Brand Recognition

Since many shoppers utilizing CSEs already know what they are searching for, we see a high number of search queries containing brand or manufacturer names. Businesses selling similar products to those of popular brands may find it difficult to see success on the shopping engines.

Poor Site Quality

An optimized website is essential to any ecommerce retailer’s success online, and its importance may even be amplified for CSEs. Users coming to the website via a CSE are landed directly on the product page. They likely are not familiar with the website layout, and if the conversion process isn’t easy to follow, they may bounce from your site and over to your competition.

Choosing a Platform

There are several players in the CSE space vying for your marketing dollars. At 3Q, some of the most popular engines include: eBay Commerce Network (formerly Shopping.com), Connexity, Polyvore, and Kelkoo. (Another popular choice is Amazon Marketing Services, but we’ve left that out here because of the prerequisite of being signed on as an Amazon vendor.)

The engines each cater to slightly different audiences and product selections. For example, the Polyvore audience tends to skew toward younger women, while Kelkoo is popular with users in the UK. As it’s impossible to accurately predict performance for any business by engine, test different CSEs to find what works for you. Luckily, you aren’t constrained to a single platform; you can test as many or as few as make sense for your business and bottom line.

Data Feeds for CSEs

If you are already running Google Shopping ads, there shouldn’t be too much extra effort necessary from a data standpoint to get started on CSEs. Many of the same fields sent to Google Merchant Center can be replicated for the various CSEs, but be sure to check on the engine specifications. There may be slight differences in heading titles, field formatting, etc.  Be sure to take advantage of any additional fields that may enhance the user experience and help nudge them to your site. eBay, for example, allows fields for both “current price” and “original price”, displaying the markdown percentage on the product’s listing when applicable.

Any sort of enhancements you can use to increase CTR to your site should certainly be used. This process can take some time and effort to get mapped, but once you have the feed set up, they shouldn’t require much regular work apart from implementing tests. Use any testing results from Google to your advantage to get a strong start in Comparison Shopping, and don’t be afraid to try new strategies within the engines to optimize your program.

An example of part of a CSE data feed

Attribution Differences

Any business running a robust digital marketing program comprised of many different vendors/channels knows that attribution across channels can pose issues without the use of a full-fledged multi-touch attribution tool. We’ve seen performance reported by the CSEs vary greatly from that shown by a third-party tool like Google Analytics. The difference can be frustrating, and it usually exists because the CSEs don’t have insight into your other channels. Say a user clicks through a CSE but doesn’t purchase. The user then returns to the CSE results page and checks out a few other retailers. Later, they return to the website after searching for your brand name, which he or she is now familiar with. They click through a Brand search ad, navigate to the product through which they originally came to the site, and purchase. Great, you have a new customer and a sale! This is where attribution gets tricky.

Both the CSE and your Brand search ad are going to take credit for the order, assuming you are using default attribution models. The impact we’ve seen here is that CSEs perform poorly in a tool like Google Analytics – they tend to see lower conversion numbers. We already know that the user is shopping around for the best deal, and likely visited other retailers carrying the same product before coming back to you. As such, there is certainly some upper-funnel branding to be gained through the channel, and something you’ll need to take into account when reporting.

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Check out all of our e-commerce week posts by clicking here.

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