Should You Be Using Comparison Shopping Engines?

Comparison Shopping Engines, also known as CSEs, have been growing in popularity with online consumers since the late 1990s. Just as their title suggests, CSEs allow online shoppers to, in essence, “compare” many stores at once for a particular product. Results are typically rendered showing various attributes such as the title or product name, price, shipping and of course the store which is offering the product.

What sets the various CSEs apart are their pricing models, required fields within the data feeds and overall unique visitor volume to each channel. In a December 2013 blog post, GoDataFeed mentioned that “The major shopping engines combined have a reach of 300 million unique visitors per month.”

Pricing Models

Most CSEs, like Amazon, Nextag, Shopzilla and Shopping.com use a CPC (Cost Per Click) pricing model. They set minimum bids for the different products and categories that are submitted to them. Competitive bidding and well optimized feeds are the key to being successful with CPC model channels like these.

While Google Shopping and Bing Product Ads both use the same CPC model as the CSEs mentioned above, instead of setting a minimum bid rate card, they allow practically any bid amount no matter how small. It’s highly unlikely that a bid of $0.01 would surface and gain a single impression but the ability to bid that low certainly exists.

There are a small number of CSEs that allow online retailers to submit their feeds for free placement. An example of one of these is TheFind. While online retailers have the option to submit their data feed for free, TheFind now offers both Cost Per Click (CPC) and Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) pricing models for “preferred inclusion” in their channel and with over 15 million unique monthly shoppers, it can be worthwhile to start out with free submissions to test the waters before choosing a pricing model.

Data Feed Requirements

CSEs require structured data in order to display products on their sites. This data is typically formatted in a spreadsheet and submitted as either CSV, TXT or XML. All channels have specific sets of data that must be included in feeds otherwise the feeds will not “pass” and will be rejected. Google Shopping for instances, tends to be the defacto feed format to format all other feeds from. The reason being that Google includes more required and recommended fields than other channels. Therefore paring down a larger feed file to satisfy another channel with less required fields tends to be an easier task than the other way around.

The More the Better

All CSEs have both required and recommended fields. It’s important to know what is being submitted to each channel to ensure that it is as optimized as it can be. Typical enhancements include the option to add shipping costs, additional images, bullet points, variations (like colors and sizes), etc. If your data source includes these fields, it’s best to include them to get an upper hand on your competition.

Who Should Use CSEs?

As an online retailer, it’s important to understand where and how consumers are shopping. Be sure to research what products can be sold in each channel as some of them prohibit the sale of various items. Come up with a reasonable budget and set realistic, attainable goals. ROI, ROAS or CPO can be used to track performance and make data driven decisions.

If you:

  1. Sell products online;
  2. Have secure checkout;
  3. Have a marketing budget;
  4. Have competition online;

Then CSEs might be for you.