This month’s expert, Sage Marketing’s Sandra Gassmann, answers the question ‘Should I participate in an online comparison shopping guide?’
Everyone wants to know that he received the fairest price quote before making a purchase. Use of the online shopping bots such as MySimon, DealTime, eCompare, or Bottomdollar can deliver the best prices from various online merchants in real-time. The consumer can then click a link from the shopping bot site and be taken to the exact location to purchase it directly. What could be better than that?
Well, for the customer looking to buy a commodity such as a refrigerator, a computer part, or a hard-to-find holiday toy, these agents can be a great way to find the lowest price from a group of merchants. After all, online marketing is supposed to be fast, cheap, and easy, and with the advancements of transaction technology speed, shopping guides and bots can make this happen. But for the marketer, other issues come to play. The most obvious is you will likely be featured on an online shopping site with competitors-and they may be offering the same merchandise as you at a cheaper price. Beyond that issue, keep in mind that with a shopping agent, the customer is shopping from the guide site, and only buying from you. In other word, the brand is that of the guide site. The prospect may have little interest in your brand. In fact, if the shopper doesn’t make a purchase from you or doesn’t opt in to your e-mail list, you may never be able to communicate with him again. Nor can you determine what he did or did not like about your site.
Supposedly, in your interest in a relationship with shopping agents you are seeking to acquire new customers. But shopping agents tend to attract more-experienced shoppers. These shoppers may already have biases toward specific brands or sites. Or they may be so price-driven that they have no brand loyalty at all; unless low prices are how you differentiate your brand, such buyers are not likely to be valuable in the long run.
But don’t dismiss shopping bots out of hand as a source of lead generation. For one thing, because users of bots are typically more-experienced online shoppers, they need no assistance in the transaction, navigation, or checkout process. They’re also more confident about shopping online with a merchant that is new to them and are less concerned about information sharing and privacy issues. If your brand is not as well known as that of, say, Amazon.com or L.L. Bean (and let’s face it, few brands are), participating in a shopping bot can bolster awareness of your company.
Then, too, some types of merchandise are better suited for shopping bots than others. Shopping agents work best for products that are
* a commodity-type item, such as toys, software, appliances, or auto parts;
* likely to be purchased by impulse;
* not tied to a brand;
* requiring minimal information or involvement;
* unlikely to require upselling, cross-selling, or customer support.
If your product line meets those criteria, go ahead and consider participating with a shopping agent site. But use such participation as just one method of enticing buyers to your site. No marketing tactic should be evaluated in isolation, so consider shopping agents in your mix of promotional efforts for customer acquisition such as e-mail, couponing, viral marketing, and incentive programs.
Also keep in mind that your goal in gaining new buyers is to have a regular and identifiable audience that can be targeted and built into relationships. That means you must support this marketing effort with strong customer service and additional offers to entice the customer back again. In the end, it your responsibility as the marketer to create the customer experience and encourage loyal, repeat use.
Sandra Gassmann is president of Sage Marketing (sagemarketing.com), a digital marketing services firm.