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How Comparison Shopping Engines Are Innovating
  I always get into an argument with a friend who works at a first generation Comparison Shopping Engine (CSE). My opinion that CSEs need to do much more than just provide price comparisons does not fare well with him. His mantra - "Get shoppers in and out as quickly as possible and run with your cut". Until recently, no one seemed interested in engaging shoppers, or providing better experiences. But, what my friend doesn't realize is that the CSE world is changing. What was once considered taboo is soon going to become a hygiene factor. And, new breed of Comparison Shopping Engines are leading the charge to see about this change. Some first generation CSEs: Shopping.com, Nextag, Shopzilla, MSN Shopping, Yahoo! Shopping, PriceGrabber and Google. Some second generation CSEs: Become, Pronto, Shopwiki, Smarter, Shop.com, Bing, TheFind and Retrevo. Here's what is changing at CSEs: Content - New CSEs are focused on providing a one-stop shop complete with user reviews, expert reviews and videos. It is clear that providing relevant content produces qualified traffic that in turn has higher conversion rates. Players like Retrevo also provide product manuals and I like the way they summarize reviews. Bigger players like Google and Bing are improving as well with integration of product images, reviews and multiple site links (Google) in their search results. Social - Community features on comparison shopping sites are bridging the gap between CSEs and social shopping sites. These features empower users to rate/review products and get advice from peers and like-minded people. Social Sharing and Facebook Likes have become ubiquitous, but integration with social networks is still evolving with Facebook launching new products every few weeks. Deals/Coupons - Shoppers have gotten used to shopping with coupon codes, which makes this feature an important value-add. An example is Ask.com that started offering this feature to save shoppers the extra step of hunting coupon sites. Localized results - It is rare to find an in-store shopper who hasn't done some research online, especially in popular product categories. Visiting comparison shopping sites is an important part of this research and ability to lookup local results along with availability information adds to this experience. Mobile - With the potential to transform the in-store shopping experience, possibilities with mobile are endless. Many shoppers today use CSEs to compare prices while in-store and to shop on-the-go. Mobile is the new frontier for any retail operation. CSEs have taken note of this and are developing rich mobile experiences. Business model - Most new CSEs offer a CPA model that is conducive to retailers. Even bigger-older players including Google (Product Listing Ads) have started offering CPA instead of PPC. Over the last year, Google and Bing have turned up the heat as they compete with each other on their eCommerce offerings. They are increasingly evolving into shopping marketplaces leaving CSEs no choice but to innovate. Most first generation CSEs (now owned by large organizations) have failed to catch up and are constantly losing traffic to second generation CSEs and bigger players that continue to improve (Google, Bing, Amazon). CSEs now have to answer a very different question, which is 'where to buy' instead of 'what to buy'. There is no doubt that in the next few years we'll see demise of some big first generation CSEs due to their failure to embrace these changes. Comparison shopping has moved beyond simple price comparisons to a one-stop shopping experience.  

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