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Old 08-04-2004   #1
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Meet the Shopping Search Engines - Live from SES San Jose

Chris Sherman moderated.

David Weinrot from BizRate sees shopping search as a specialized vertical in search. One of the highlights of shopping search is the product level comparison. He began going through screen shots of bizrate's shopping search engine. In the past 15th months online consumer behavior has shifted 17% to shopping search sites. BizRate attracts 20 million unique users per month and direct that traffic to merchants. He says its basically risk free, no set up fees, etc. The business services site has listing, bidding and other tools. They have a customer rating system (which is very popular out there).

Rob Solomon from Yahoo! Shopping was next up. He started with a quiz to give away hats. He said apparel and home and garden products are 60% of search. His point, people are now using this for that. He asked a few more questions and flung out a few hats. Search is the foundation for shopping. Uniquely combines search and compare functionality. Focused on ensuring search results are highly relevant and comprehensive. Search on mp3 player, you will see you can narrow it down by attribute, they are improving on this today. He said comparison shopping is a "killer app." They have a program named "product submit" to help you manage your feed. High quality product images, include data about products, product names and description, updated info, total price are all very important areas to rank well on Yahoo! Shopping.

Sean Behr from Shopping.com will try to point out things shopping does differently and how to succeed with shopping.com. Shopping.com is the largest online comparison shopping services, and the 4th largest online retail destination, 20 million uniques per month, and more then 6,000 merchants. They originally started out as dealtime.com and focused on tech related products, not they are wide spread and sell mostly apparel and home & garden like the others. The sort area is defaulted to "trust" which is ratings by customers. Price is important but ratings are more important. Smart Buy gets about 3x more visibility. An other tool they have is the CDI (customer demand index) found at shopping.com/cdi/. Merchant ratings are hard to get, there is traditionally a negative bias (which is logical). Merchants with a 4.0+ rating have a 34% higher conversion rate then others. Trusted Stores have a 49% higher and a smart buy has a 110% higher conversion rate figure. Take advantage of all the product listing features, use the shopping surveys to boost ratings, partner with SEM firms and watch the cdi to see what is hot.

Marissa Mayer from Google was up next to talk about Froogle. History was how she started, in 2002, people were querying on product related items but Google wasn't providing what they needed (they wanted to buy). They decided to develop Froogle. Froogle is Free - that got some claps. Process: Merchant -> Feed via FTP -> Froogle Results Page. Another way to get into Froogle, they also use the Google index to find products for sale and they call these "fall-through" results. Feed results always appear before the fall-through results. Feeds are very easy to set up, they have a great merchant center, and you can update the information at any time. Free advertising is infinite ROI. Features can sort by price, filter price, search by category as well and the price and picture are visible in search (unlike Google.com). They want more feedback, feel free to respond.

Last up was Mark Bradley from NextTag, which is the second largest shopping site (shopping.com is the largest). NextTag focuses on selection, ROI, volume, and efficiency. 50% is tech product, the rest go to other industries. He didn't want to repeat what most the others said, they are very similar to the others. He said they give a marketing message to place in his engine that help with CTR and conversion. They also show a "price history" chart, which shows how the price decreases or increases over time and they have a price alert feature (like stocks). Its very easy to list products; (1) send feed or (2) automatic crawl.

When I buy, I go to Google do my search on sku or product name, click on the ads of the shopping search engines and then look for the lowest costs with shipping. Loyalty for me is not there amongst which engine I choose. But I think I buy more from Shopping.com, they have more merchants, which normally means lower prices merchants.

Q & A:

Q: Nacho got the first question and he asked about how does he handle selling the same exact product but in different size, or different colors, etc?
A: BizRate recommends that the SKU values be unique among the product sizes and colors. So each product would require a different sku. NextTag recommends you see what others are doing. Yahoo! tries to allow you to include a "sales rank" and if you say this product is more popular then it would rank higher. Shopping.com said you don't want to have a person click on each listed size, so see which one you prefer to list. Froogle lists one and has a link to more.

Q: How do you recommend new sites to rank well based on customer reviews?
A: Shopping.com recommends using the survey option and in 2 to 3 weeks you can rank well. Yahoo says everyone has the opportunity to be rated well, but they are coming up with a grace period factor being implemented.

Q: What is your biggest business challenge in the coming years?
A: BizRate said providing attributes for every category. Yahoo said differentiation is the biggest challenge, personalization is a big focus for Yahoo and then scale. NextTag's biggest challenge is higher people but seriously he said there is a 20% overlap between these engines (besides Google). Froogle's biggest challenge is taking the feedback and improving.

Q: Pricing is very competitive, do you allow special pricing?
A: NextTag said no, you have to have the same price on nexttag and on the site, but its hard to monitor.

Q: How do people buy, price or brand or reviews?
A: NextTag said 50% buy based on merchant brand and 50% buy based on lowest price. BizRate provided this information earlier. Shopping.com said price is a huge factor, its their secondary sort. Froogle sees a lot of interest in price as well.

Q: Do web search algorithms overlap with shopping algorithm search?
A: Google said no but they do include the top three Froogle results in Google. Yahoo said something interesting, he said Inktomi is powering Yahoo! Search (he must of not meant that). Missed the other part, because this shocked me.
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Old 08-05-2004   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rustybrick
Yahoo said something interesting, he said Inktomi is powering Yahoo! Search (he must of not meant that). Missed the other part, because this shocked me.
To clarify, Rob said that Inktomi is powering Yahoo *Shopping* search (it has for ages), not the overall Y web search service. He also said that they're migrating over the next 18-24 months to a platform using the technology acquired from FAST (aka AlltheWeb), and plan to integrate more closely with Y web search.

Shopping search is different from web search -- it handles structured data (things like prices, SKUs, quantity in stock, etc) so it's a necessarily different technology than web search, which looks at unstructured data. Not surprising that they're using different technologies for shopping and web.
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Old 08-05-2004   #3
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Thumbs up Great coverage Barry!

I honestly think it has been one of the best so far, everyone did a great job providing direct action oriented approaches to improving our rankings on the shopping search engines and the Q&A complemented all additional concerns.

SES Rules!

There were a few other questions that got to my attention.

One man, asked Froogle direct how his B2B business can compete well on rankings since his prices are far bigger than the same B2C products. The answer was more oriented to quoting something like equivalent to $1.00 p/sqft on your "price" segment of the feed for example rather than $1,000 for the first 1,000 sqft. Then making it work on your shopping cart so that the minimum order is the $1,000.

The other question, which was great, was how do the shopping search engines plan to adapt to the fashion industry since seasonality, style, colors and brands as well as many other factor come into play? For example, selling a Ralph Lauren POLO shirt vs. XYZ Brand Polo shirt for the keyword "cotton shirts". The engines see this as a potential opportunity to improve these types of concepts, but they are not available today. David Weinrot, from BizRate, recommended to benchmark this with eBay who is probably doing the best job on that so far, where you can tweek your inicial search query to define many of those additional fashion factors.

Last edited by Nacho : 08-05-2004 at 12:50 PM. Reason: Added
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Old 08-05-2004   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Sherman
To clarify, Rob said that Inktomi is powering Yahoo *Shopping* search (it has for ages), not the overall Y web search service. He also said that they're migrating over the next 18-24 months to a platform using the technology acquired from FAST (aka AlltheWeb), and plan to integrate more closely with Y web search.

Shopping search is different from web search -- it handles structured data (things like prices, SKUs, quantity in stock, etc) so it's a necessarily different technology than web search, which looks at unstructured data. Not surprising that they're using different technologies for shopping and web.
Chris, thank you for the clarification here. Good to have others correct my mistakes. I do appreciate it.
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