Comparison Shopping Engines Primer

Many online shoppers love bargain hunting and utilize a comparison shopping engine for research along with finding the perfect retailer they can trust. When a potential customer comes across your site through a product or merchant review in a shopping engine the first time they are likely in research mode.  Once the customer moves from the research phase to buying phase they are usually going to purchase from a site discovered during the research phase. Of course you will need to have a good reputation for this to happen; negative reviews will nail the coffin shut very quickly. The more positive exposure the greater probability you are to turn potential customers into real customers. Google ranks comparison shopping engines on its first page of results for products more and more it seems including results from Google Product Search.  You have probably seen the “Shopping Results” link either when searching for one of your own keywords or when shopping for yourself.

Tough economic times will cause even more buyers to bargain shop for this upcoming holiday season. To capitalize on this traffic consider advertising on several shopping engines to determine the best ones for your niche.  I recommend you test drive a shopping engine service for at least 90 days to effectively evaluate as a valuable marketing channel.  Some you will see immediate results while other shopping engines might have a lag period before you see conversions. Be smart and don’t blow your advertising budget though; some of the comparison shopping sites will eat your lunch if you are not careful.

Google, Yahoo and MSN all have their own shopping advertising programs however Google is the only one that is free.  Every ecommerce store should be submitting a feed of their products to the Google Product SearchYahoo and MSN extend their standard CPC advertising programs into their shopping engines; what this means is you bid for position.  You should carefully monitor any CPC program otherwise you stand to lose your lunch money quick; comparison shopping bidding is no different.

Outside of Google, Yahoo and MSN let’s take a look at five comparison shopping engines that have captured the most traffic.  A quick look at Google Trends for websites reveals the most popular engines from Google’s point of view:

Compete and Alexa paint a slightly different picture in terms of unique visitors by placing Nextag at the top.  Compete shows the runner ups as Shopzilla, Shopping.com and PriceGrabber respectively:

Alexa on the other hand shows the close competitors as Shopping.com, PriceGrabber and then Shopzilla in terms of unique visitor page views:

Alexa also measures percentage of internet traffic which they call reach; I suspect this is how Google trends also works since the Alexa reach trends match Google’s:

Shopping.com

Shopping.com is an E-bay company which has probably helped it grab the largest share of internet traffic in the comparison shopping engine space.  Shopping.com uses a CPC model for advertising with rates ranging from $.05 to $1.00 per click. Shopping.com pulls product and merchant reviews from Epinions.com; another affiliate company. They have a Trusted Store program for merchants with positive reviews who have been in good standing for at least three months.  There are some other requirements for the Trusted Score program outlined on Shopping.com.

Nextag.com

Nextag has been around for awhile in the comparison shopping space and was named one of the 50 Best Websites by TIME Magazine earlier this year. Nextag isn’t just for ecommerce products either; they cover real estate, loans and travel too. Lead rates range from .10 to 1.00 per click so if you are paying over  $1 per click on Adwords then definitely consider trying out Nextag.  Another advantage of Nextag listings is they do fairly well for showing up on the first page of search results.

PriceGrabber.com

Price Grabber
made itself famous with computer hardware and later electronic product comparison shopping. I remember using their very simple interface when picking parts to build custom PCs just a few short years ago.  Now they have expanded into just about every product category. To get listed you will need to signup for their program.  PriceGrabber charges on a per lead (i.e. click) basis with rates from .15 to 1.00 depending on the category.  You can add a logo for a .10 surcharge.  Like many of the shopping engines you can provide your stores product list via a data feed.

Shopzilla.com

Shopzilla is a combination of itself, Bizrate and AOL which are all part of Scripps Networks Interactive.  They have been online for 12 years now since being founded in 1996.  The product reviews come from Bizrate and the listings are via a CPC bidding program similar to most others. I’ve seen many etailers boost their sales and ROI using Shopzilla which probably stems from the ease of use of Shopzilla’s site.

Smarter.com

Smarter.com is a smaller and newer shopping engine that has more of a web 2.0 / social media feel.  Their rates start at .15 per click which is inline with the other comparison engines and you need a $100 budget to start.  One really unique feature is that customers can text message a product name to 610-SMARTER while they are at a store to find out if there is a better price online.  I think this is brilliant idea but only time will tell if it is something consumers will use.

Each shopping comparison engine has a slightly different demographic so some will work better than others for certain ecommerce niches.  At the very least get your products listed in the Google Product Search since it is free; then try the others as your budget dictates.  You can get demographics on many of the comparison engines prior to committing funds so if you know the target demographic that is most profitable for your niche apply this data to selecting your comparison shopping engines advertising.