Shopping Search Update 2004, Part 1

Here’s a review of new, interesting developments at the major shopping search and comparison sites in 2004. Today: BizRate.com/Shopzilla, Froogle, and MSN Shopping.

BizRate/Shopzilla.com

BizRate had a busy year, surpassing Shopping.com to become the most-trafficked shopping search site after Yahoo Shopping, according to Hitwise. BizRate’s self-reported traffic number is 13.2 million unique visitors per month, as of mid-November.

The company changed its name to Shopzilla in November. Why the change?

This year, BizRate reengineered its search technology and beefed up a number of features in addition to expanding its product offerings. “Now that we have a product that deserves more loyalty, we decided to give it a handle that’s more memorable,” said Farhad Mohit, cofounder, chairman, and chief of products.

BizRate and Shopzilla operate as separate services, supported by the same underlying technology. The site searches over 28 million product offerings from over 51,000 merchants. The product index is updated three times a day. The company is testing a new index with over 45 million products, which will scale to 200 million or more, says Mohit.

A major initiative to improve relevance focuses on bolstering query processing, with improved contextual sensitivity, as well as the ability to better understand weights, measures, and other quantitative factors. A new “FlexiBrowse” feature allows shoppers to adjust desired product attributes while browsing, rather than start a new query.

Other new features include:

  • Shopzilla List: Enables shoppers to create and save a personalized list of products and merchant links

  • Top Picks: Highlights most-popular, top-rated, and best-priced products
  • Larger images, close-up views, and 360-degree views of popular products
  • Product demos and video of popular electronic products
  • SmartChoice: Highlights the lowest price from a highly rated BizRate-certified merchant with the product in stock
  • Professional reviews: Commentary from pros covering top-selling products
  • Customer reviews: Over 1 million new customer reviews monthly

BizRate crawls as many merchant sites as possible and includes basic listings at no charge. The company also offers pay-per-click (PPC) sponsored listings for more prominent placement.

Froogle

Although Froogle has maintained its beta status, Google’s shopping search engine has enjoyed continual improvement throughout the year. Froogle was promoted with its own link on Google’s home page, replacing the directory tab/link. In October, Google launched a U.K. version. Other country-specific Froogle sites are to come.

Froogle added merchant ratings, which are also provided by other shopping search services, including BizRate, NexTag, PriceGrabber.com, and Shopping.com. Froogle calculates its own unique store rating for each merchant, from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) based on these ratings.

Just in time for the holidays, Froogle introduced a shopping list feature that lets users keep track of products they want to buy. The shopping list is similar to Amazon’s wish list, allowing users to share wish lists or to access them from any Net-connected computer. Users can also annotate products with their notes and sort the list by price, item, or date added.

Other new features include:

  • Grid view: Enables users to view product thumbnails

  • Sort by price: Enables users to sort results by price, low to high, or high to low
  • Merchant center launch: Enables merchants to more easily submit and monitor data feeds

Google declined to provide information about the number of merchant sites and products searchable through the service, or Froogle’s monthly quantity of traffic or unique visitors.

Froogle listings are free to merchants. Though Google attempts to crawl and include as many online stores and products as possible, the company encourages merchants to submit structured product feeds to assure accurate listings. Google accepts no payment for listings. Merchants can, however, bid on Google AdWords, included in Froogle result pages for product-related queries.

MSN Shopping

Not much changed at MSN Shopping this year. According to an MSN spokesperson, “MSN Shopping focused on improving the customer experience with the current features.”

MSN Shopping has over 6 million products its database from 200-plus stores. Microsoft says MSN Shopping includes more Fortune 500 retailers than any other online shopping portal, including Circuit City, Neiman Marcus, Blue Nile, RedEnvelope, Sephora, Dell, and JC Penney. The service differentiates itself with exclusive deals and hard-to-find items from premier merchants.

Microsoft declined to reveal specific traffic numbers. The company did say in November 2004, MSN Shopping saw a 30 percent increase in consumer spending and site traffic compared with the same period last year. MSN Shopping also experienced a 48 percent growth in visitor-traffic-to-merchant-site transfers during the week leading up to Black Friday.

Next: NexTag, PriceGrabber, Shopping.com/DealTime, and Yahoo Shopping.

This column was adopted from ClickZ’s SearchEngineWatch.com. A longer, more detailed version is available to paid Search Engine Watch members.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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