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Why Online Merchants Should List Their Product Catalog on Comparison Shopping Engines

I am asked everyday questions about why online merchants should list their product catalogs on comparison shopping engines.

It makes perfect sense that I am asked this question, because I am in the business of data feed management and helping small to mid-sized online merchants increase their return on ad spend when working with a variety of online shopping destination sites, comparison shopping engines, mobile commerce sites, and other marketing channels.

So What is The Answer?

Online merchants benefit from ANY marketing effort that gets their brand and storefront products in front of potential shoppers, wherever those shoppers may be. This includes traditional marketing efforts, as the yellow pages, emails, direct mail, catalogs, and modern marketing efforts as ecommerce, mcommerce (mobile commerce), blogs, bonded shopping networks, and social networking sites (we are still seeing if these work, but you get the point). This philosophy is intuitive, simple, and should be not an issue. 

Issues, however, do arise when an online merchant has to weigh the cost and time involved to market wherever a shopper might be using traditional or new marketing methods and strategies.  These marketing methods bring into play three main issues:

1. Where do I market?

2. Do I have the time to maximize these marketing efforts correctly? and

3. What will it cost me?

And then of course, after an online merchant asks these three aforementioned questions comes the most important issue/question:

"Did my marketing efforts work = Did my marketing efforts lead to sales and brand awareness?"

I am here to tell you that any small to mid-sized online merchant should experiment and try comparison shopping engines and other shopping destination sites, because they "can" work, if you find the right marketing channel for your products.

Not every marketing channel is right for your products -- that is why I say "can" work.  That's right. Online merchants have to test, often, numerous marketing channels to see which ones work for their online storefront/product catalog, as not every online shopping mall or comparison shopping engine may attract the right audience/shopper for your products.

[NOTE: Please do not let "experts" tell you that they know all of the right channels for your products, especially if they have not tested your products in a particular channel.]

The good news for online merchants is that there are a plethora of shopping destination sites and comparison shopping engines to pick from, each bringing millions of people each month to their online mall to find your products.   

Some of these channels include: Amazon, Become, buySAFE bonded shopping network, Cooking.com, eBay!, GourmetFoodMall.com, Google Product Search, Greenzer, Like.com, MachineTools.com, Microsoft Cashback, myCoupons.com, PriceGrabber, PriceRunner, Pronto, Shop.com, Shopping.com, Shopzilla, Smarter, SortPrice, theFind, ToolCrib, Yahoo! Shopping, and many others.  I know of over 250 marketing channels, so don't think that only the bigger, well known comparison shopping engines are the only marketing channels available to you.  <<<CLICK HERE>>> for a more comprehensive list from MerchantAdvantage.

And the better news is that many comparison shopping engines have business models that ARE AFFORDABLE to work with right away.  Some comparison shopping engines only charge when a sale is made, others have a flat rate per month, and others are FREE, ergo, not all comparison shopping engines charge on a pay-per-click/pay-per-lead model.  Such examples are: Google Product Search; JellyFish, Microsoft Cash Back; MSN Shopping; myCoupons.com, and theFind.com.

I have many clients who are very selective to which comparison shopping engines they send their product catalog data.  For instance, some of my clients only use niche comparison shopping engines that specialize in selling machine tools, gourmet food, or golf related products. Other clients use over 60 comparison shopping engines in order to saturate the marketplace with their products and be wherever an online shopper might be to build brand awareness.  The strategy each client takes depends on budgets and time, but, in each case, comparison shopping engines work for them.

At all times, when working with comparison shopping engines, online merchants must ensure that the product catalog they send to a comparison shopping engine is perfect and up to date, so that the comparison shopping engine lists your product catalog in all of the appropriate places on their site. 

This can be done directly with each comparison shopping site, i.e. feeding them a file each day that follows their feed specification document, OR you can use a cost-effective, Web-based tool that takes care of these issues for you. But...

Before You Work with A Comparison Shopping Engine

Online merchants must ensure, before using any comparison shopping engine, that their online storefront is worthy of marketing in the first place.  What do I mean by this? 

As an example, I had a client two months ago who was frustrated. He was getting a lot of hits/clicks to his website from comparison shopping engines but these hits/clicks were not converting to sales.  This means that all of his fields were properly mapped to the feed spec document of each comparison shopping engine and he opitimized his data properly, but the clicks to his site were not converting to sales.

When we talked directly and both went to his online storefront, I was dismayed to find that his online storefront was a mess, was not professional looking, was hard to navigate, and the check out process was not easy.  I asked him:

"If you came to your storefront, the way it looked and functioned, would you buy a product from you?"

At that point we made an assumption that most of his problems might not be with his comparison shopping engine marketing strategies. Instead, we agreed that he had to clean up the look, feel, marketing language, pictures, special offers, logos, and functionality of his storefront website before marketing anywhere.

Over the next three weeks, he cleaned up his storefront and then started his comparison shopping engine marketing efforts over again.  I had him look at REI and ProFlowers, two websites/webstores that work very well and can show an online merchant what "not to do" when building your storefront, which is as important as what "to do." He could not afford all of the functionality of each of these sites, but looking at them and learning from them certainly helped.  The results -- sure enough, clicks from the comparison shopping engines started to lead to sales.

Rei_site_2 Proflowers_site_2

The point of this example is that often online merchants fail to recognize that leads from comparison shopping engines do not always equate to sales, for numerous reasons beyond the control of comparison shopping engines, and that their online storefront must be professional and "worthy" to complete a sale. 

Okay, now back to comparison shopping engines and what an online merchant can do right now to gain success on comparison shopping engines.

Comparison Shopping Engines: 7 Steps to Success

1. Professional Look, Feel, and Functionality: Clean up your online storefront/website.  Ask your friends to go to your website and ask them this: "If you were a stranger and you came to my website would you buy from me?"  If they say no, ask them why and remember that you only have one chance to make a good first impression.

2. Start with 4 Free Comparison Shopping Engines: Send your entire product catalog to 4 FREE comparison shopping engines: Google Product Search, theFind.com, MSN LiveSearch, and Microsoft Cashback.  They are free, may lead to some sales, and will certainly help with organic SEO search.  Where else can you get FREE marketing and also learn how comparison shopping engines work before making a larger time and financial commitment?

3. Use a Cost-Effective, Web-based Tool to Handle Technical Issues with Analysis: There are solutions in the marketplace that, for as little as $145 a month and no transaction fees, no listing fees, no revenue share, and no set-up costs, can get you up and running in less than 48 hours on the 4 FREE sites mentioned above (and 21 others, if you choose for the same price), with analytics included. What other marketing methods are available to you for only $145 a month?

4. Test, Test, and Test Various Comparison Shopping Engines: Even after you "worked" a specific comparison shopping engine for 60-90 days, optimized your feeds properly, and used the SKU level bidding feature of some comparison shopping engines, sometimes a particular comparison shopping engine still may not lead to sales. Instead of getting upset, try another comparison shopping engine. There are a lot of comparison shopping engines out there that may have a more appropriate audience for you. And, since most comparison shopping engines charge on a month-to-month basis, can you afford not to try them?

5. Educate Yourself: There are many resources on the web about best practices when working with comparison shopping engines. As an example, as a client of MerchantAdvantage, MerchantAdvantage offers weekly client-side webinars directly from the technical staff of both MerchantAdvantage AND the technical staff of a comparison shopping engine to keep you up to speed on the best way to work with a particular comparison shopping engine, how to use SKU level bidding features where supported, what products sell best, how best to optimize a feed, and the like. You also can access several FREE webinars, whitepapers, and other sources of information, with no obligation, from the front of MerchantAdvantage's website.

6. Catalog Dipping: Not every product you sell will sell well on every comparison shopping engine: we all know that fact. Try adopting a strategy of only sending products that lead to sales and not just clicks. You can do this easily when using a Web-based tool, with robust analytics, to manage your product catalog feeds and start to have some fun when working with comparison shopping engines.

7. Choice: Make sure you have the option and choice to send your product catalog feed to any marketing channel available to you on the Internet.  That includes over 250+ comparison shopping sites I know of, affiliate sites as Commission Junction and Linkshare (that can get you to the smallest of sites where your products can be found), eBay! and Amazon. Why? Because you never know into which comparison shopping engine your product catalog will lead to the most sales. MerchantAdvantage offers the broadest possible choice in the marketplace and you can start with a pretty comprehensive list here

I hope this information helps friends of eTaildTail prepare your marketing strategies for the online holiday shopping season over the next few months.

Happy 4th of July weekend.

Chip Arndt

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