Holiday Shopping Sites: Time to Buy Now

Last year I’d written a piece about buying shopping sites. I wrote, “This holiday season will serve to prove the model for online real estate committed exclusively to e-commerce.” Well, in a way, it did. The season proved just what e-tailers really could and couldn’t do for the general consumer. Goods providers were plagued with shipping, inventory availability, and site-functionality issues.

But it still proved a boon for sites whose focus was e-commerce and the act of shopping. Advertisers couldn’t buy enough inventory on these properties, and they were certain it would be the means to realizing their dreams of avarice.

Then the old economy reared its ugly head and devoured overzealous dot-coms by the score. Every day we read of more blood spilt, of more e-tailers that failed. Even though energized by enthusiasm for new media and distate for the status quo, these dot-coms could not escape a terrible fate. BigWords.com, Petstore.com, eve.com, and Productopia (which now links to mySimon.com), are just a few that have fallen in the last month.

But never fear, Crusaders! There are still shopping sites galore to take advantage of for the extant e-tailing advertisers and those with commercial propositions to make. And it still seems like a good bet that these are properties that are going to perform best for the kind of advertiser with something to sell to the general public.

So, what should you be looking for this year for shopping sites versus last year?

Well, let’s go over the things to be thinking about when entering this landscape.

  1. Use commercial messaging when in a commercial context. Don’t talk about being the best-smelling or coolest-looking product in this kind of environment. Be blunt. Use price/item messaging or some other hard benefit to promote your product. The holidays are upon us, and the folks want to shop, not be made to feel good.

  2. These properties are not being used to promote brands but to move products. These placements are an ancillary sales channel, not an arena for building awareness. Don’t go for placements where there is a lot of editorial and other forms of promotion for the site you are on. These sites are like stores, and what you want is shelf space.
  3. Try to negotiate pay-for-performance advertising. I am not advocating that this is the only kind of price structure for purchasing online advertising (though I’ve gotten flack for being the “CPC Guy”), but in a commercial context, what is the value of advertising (and I would argue it isn’t really advertising) in this environment? I don’t advertise in a catalog to promote a brand, but to sell a product. I don’t do end-aisle displays as a rhetorical device for convincing potential consumers that by engaging my product they will somehow alter their relationship with the world around them in some positive way. I simply want to be the last word before the cash register. Work out a deal that is equitable with a shopping site, like a flat slotting fee plus percentage of revenue, or perhaps a bounty. Last year a lot of these sites were going on the CPC model, but I think a per-inquiry model is better.
  4. Back in August, I talked about the possibility of selling inventory against a rate base, like magazines do. Shopping sites should have no problem doing this; since many of them offer fixed positioning, it is almost like a print vehicle. Work out a price structure that is built around “audience” rather than just impressions. Again, this would work like a catalog buy.
  5. Look into per-name pricing. Most of the shopping sites require registration. See if you can buy just a list of advertisers and have your product featured only to those advertisers in the shopping environment (not a newsletter or email).
  6. Finally, though I hate to say it, check the news every day (I’m particularly fond of FuckedCompany) to see whether or not the site you are considering will still be around. I’m telling you, the bodies are piling up fast and furious, and you never know who is going down next. Actually, this may be good advice for any plan you are putting together!

The season for planning media for the holidays is already upon us. It isn’t too soon to start looking for opportunities now.

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