The holiday shopping season is almost upon us. Black Friday comes at the end of the week, followed by the increasingly popular Cyber Monday. While there are plenty of deal sites, there also remain traditional shopping search engines that consumers may wish to use.
Shopping search engines, or perhaps more properly, product and price comparison services, were one of the first specialized “vertical” search types to emerge in the early days of the web. The first services, like Andersen Consulting’s BargainFinder, were “intelligent agents” designed to grab product info from specific retailer websites – and they were widely hated and resisted by many online retailers of the day for giving an “unfair advantage” to the lowest cost provider.
Today, the opposite is true: retailers now recognize the value of being found online, and comparison shopping search services often have direct access to real-time product inventory, both online and locally in brick and mortar stores. If you aren’t familiar with these services, you owe it to yourself to check them out to save both time and money, especially during a busy holiday season where competition is fierce and prices and availability change rapidly.
This guide is designed for shoppers, not sellers. If you are a retailer and want to know best practices, options and specific tactics for attracting searchers, take a look at the dozens of articles in Search Engine Land’s Search & Retail library.
Finding The Right Stuff: It’s Not Just About Search Anymore
I’ve been writing about shopping search since the late 90s, covering specialized comparison sites like Shopping.com, Pricegrabber, Nextag and others. These are true shopping search engines, with the familiar interface and results that are similar to web search engines like Google.
This year, however, new trends are in play, including social recommendations and the explosion of buyers accessing retail sites via mobile devices. Sites like Pinterest, while not “pure” shopping search, have become fertile hunting grounds for people looking to find cool products or the ideal gift. And comScore reports that 4 in every 5 smartphone users accessed retail content on their device. Some of that traffic to online retailers is undoubtedly being directed by comparison shopping or deal apps, and of course, many mobile apps have significant social components.
Nonetheless, search is still the predominant way people find their way to ecommerce sites, according to Hitwise, and Google undoubtedly makes up a large chunk of that traffic. This is both from product results appearing in web search results when Google detects “commercial intent,” and also from people using Google Shopping (more on that below). But there are other good options, thus, a look at the most popular “pure” web-based comparison shopping services.
Shopping Search: The Major Players
Shopping search results resemble web search results, but there’s a key difference: The results consist almost entirely of ads paid for by retailers. Payment models vary, but it’s important to keep in mind that what you’re looking at with comparison shopping results isn’t necessarily a summary the “best” or “most relevant” products but rather those that have been put forward by paid inclusion programs. So, while still quite helpful in tracking down what you’re looking for, you’ll need to look at other factors such as reviews, social recommendations, price and so on before making any buying decision.
Comparison engines also offer goodies like the ability to store lists of products you’re interested in, tailoring results so that your favorite brands appear above others, and many other shopping-specific perks.
Google Product Search. Google has been active in comparison shopping for many years now, both blending product/merchant information into web search results, and operating standalone comparison shopping verticals with names like Google Product Search, Google Products and Froogle. In May the company changed both the name to Google Shopping and its business model, shifting from a formerly free crawl/feed based system to one monetized service where merchants have to pay Google for product listings. Google Shopping is beset with problems, as covered in our The Mess That Is Google Shopping.
Despite growing pains, Google Shopping is a decent starting point for any product related search. In addition to seasonally-driven editorial picks and shortlists, Google Shopping has revived its print-based catalog search, letting you “go green” and ditch the annoying paper-based catalogs that require frequent recycling. You can also get access to Google Offers, its Groupon-like flash sale service.
Merchants interesting in listing on Google Shopping should check out the Information for Merchants page.
Shopzilla. Like Google, Shopzilla is both a longtime veteran and also offers a broad array of choices for searchers. Shopzilla began life as Bizrate in 1997 and morphed into Shopzilla in 2004. Today the company operates a number of comparison services, showcasing over 100 million products from tens of thousands of retailers from sites it operates including Bizrate, Beso, Shopzilla, Retrevo, TaDa, PrixMoinsCher and SparDeinGeld.
Merchants interesting in listing on Shopzilla should check out the Merchant Listings & Advertising page.
Nextag. Another longtime veteran of the comparison shopping space, Nextag goes beyond product search, helping you find deals on event tickets, travel, and Groupon-like flash deals. If you’re curious about what other people are finding interesting, check out Radar which provides an up-to-date snapshot of what others are searching for and buying.
Since Nextag Nextag offers multiple products and services in results check out the Advertise With Us page to learn more about how you can list products, events or travel services.
Pricegrabber likes to brand itself as “the” top-tier comparison service, stating “our site attracts computer literate, informed buyers, in search of the best deal they can find.” True – but as a searcher, be aware that the site is owned and operated by Experian, the credit reporting company that also owns Hitwise, an online traffic analysis group. Bottom-line: You’re likely to get really good search results from Pricegrabber, but you’ll also find a significant degree of targeting due to the sheer amount of data Experian has gathered, both in aggregate and potentially about your web use in general. If you’re concerned about privacy you may want to use the other services described here.
Merchants interesting in listing on Pricegrabber should check out the Experian Site Map page to view all of the varied products and solutions the company offers.
There are many other shopping comparison sites, including eBay’s Shopping.com, Bing shopping and others, but start with these – and happy holiday shopping!