The holiday season is looming. Are you ready? Part one of a series.
Too early to be talking about the 2005 holiday season? Think again. According to the biggest players in comparison shopping search, if you haven’t come aboard by Labor Day, you won’t have enough testing and analysis time to be ready by the holidays. And if trend figures are any indication, any company seeking online holiday sales better not miss comparison search. 2005 might be its breakout year.
These days, most major merchants already participate in multiple comparison search engines. Many no-name merchants generate stellar sales through comparison search. There’s room for more. Plus, some engines are expanding their categories to give new opportunities to different market sectors. Shopping search engines see their real incremental growth, however, coming from increased user adoption and repeat use of their engines based on satisfied experiences.
For merchants, and hence media buyers, comparison search is all about increased return on investment (ROI). Like traditional paid search, comparison search is based on a bidding system. By its nature, it attracts consumers further down the purchase funnel, consumers ready to make buying decisions. As a result, media buyers can typically afford to pay higher CPCs (define) than they would with traditional search.
The holiday season is the time to allocating more budget to comparison search. Comparison search engines are now preparing for the upcoming holiday season. These preparations deal with improving merchant tools, increasing the power of their onsite consumer decision-making tools, and ramping up their own direct marketing efforts:
When dealing with ad agencies, the comparison engines agree the biggest obstacle is in data feed creation. They don’t understand why creating the feeds should be so difficult. In my experience, however, data feeds can require that uncomfortable marriage between marketing and IT as a potential first obstacle, not to mention feed requirements differ from engine to engine. Scott Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, a company that helps merchants and agencies create and optimize feeds, puts it this way: "The feed is not a one-time thing. It needs constant care and feeding, and dedicating a full-time IT person to data feed maintenance can get really pricey, really quickly."
What’s a good holiday planning strategy once you get the data feed issue resolved? The comparison engines advise you allocate time for a testing and ramp-up period to work out the kinks by Halloween. Depending on the merchant’s size, the ramp up can take 30 to 60 days. During that time, test product price points, bid and positioning points, traffic flow, and landing-page optimization. Also, take the time to acquire merchant ratings, as these ratings affect positioning and consumer decision-making. Don’t be choosey -- list in all the engines.
There are different opinions on selecting price points. The engines say consumers seldom resort results by price, but ChannelAdvisor disagrees. Some say knock $1-2 off important products you want to sell. Others say go for position first, merchant ratings second, and, finally, price.
To sort it all out before Christmas, get cracking now.
In part two : online advertising opportunities.
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A ClickZ expert columnist since 2005, Hollis Thomases (@hollisthomases) is president and founder of Maryland-based WebAdvantage.net, an online marketing company that provides results-centric, strategic Internet marketing services, including online media planning, SEO, PPC campaign management, social media marketing, and Internet consulting. Author of Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day and an award-winning entrepreneur, Hollis is the Maryland 2007 SBA Small Business Person of the Year. Hollis speaks extensively on online marketing, having presented for ClickZ, the American Marketing Association, SES, The Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association, The Kelsey Group, and the Vocus Worldwide User Forum. WebAdvantage.net's client list has included Nokia USA, Nature Made Vitamins, Johns Hopkins University, ENDO Pharmaceuticals, K'NEX Construction Toys, and Visit Baltimore. The agency was recognized as a "Small Giant" by the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and was chosen as a "Best Place for Business Women to Work" by "Smart Woman Magazine."
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