What's the difference between a shopping comparison engine and an online marketplace & which should you use?

Aran Reeks
By Aran Reeks
14 Mar 2014

For some shoppers, shopping comparison engines and online marketplaces are a way of life. They can often be the first places they go when they want to buy something.  These sites attract millions of visits every month, which is a potential source of customers that you probably can’t afford to ignore. But do you understand the difference between these channels, which is right for you and how to get the best out of them? 

Price Comparison Engines

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Shopping comparison engines are sites such as pricegrabber.com, PriceRunner and Kelkoo.  Their function is simply to display offers for the same item from a range of sellers so that buyers can pick the best deal.  Amazon also works as a shopping comparison engine but the situation is complicated by the fact that they are also trying to sell things which could be competing with your products. Some engines are free and most charge you a fee every time somebody clicks through to your site.

Online Marketplaces

One of the best known online marketplaces is eBay where you effectively set up your own online shop within their site.  Just to add to the confusion Google Shopping performs as a comparison engine and online marketplace using the same data feed from eBay to market your items. It also lets you use AdWords to feature your offers directly within search result pages as Product Listing Ads (PLAs). 

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Whichever route you choose the benefits are broadly the same: reach, search and visitor quality.

Reach

This is probably the most significant benefit.  The fact that each of these sites attract millions of visitors every month makes them hard to ignore. How else could you have the potential to get your products in front of that many people?

Search

Unless you sell something that is truly unique, how much would you need to spend on SEO services to get on the first page of Google for all of your products? For most businesses the keywords that relate to their products are highly competitive. Both organic and paid search results tend to be dominated by the price comparison engines and online marketplaces, and competing with them for ranking and traffic can be difficult.

So if they are already dominating search for your main keywords, why not tap into that traffic and opportunity? It’s a chance to get your brand in front of more potential customers and get some of those visitors on to your site.

Visitor Quality

How many of the people who visit your site through organic search really intend to buy something and how many are just window shopping or researching? With a price comparison engine in particular, you can be reasonably sure that somebody intends to buy something. They’ve identified the exact product they want, selected the deal that they think represents the best value, and clicked through to the link on your site. That sounds like a pretty serious prospect to me and it likely won’t surprise you to hear that across all the sites we’ve developed that list on comparison engines, it’s always among their top converting traffic source, typically far above that of organic search results.

it likely won’t surprise you to hear that across all the sites we’ve developed that list on comparison engines, it’s always among their top converting traffic source, typically far above that of organic search results.

Now you have a visitor who is interested in the things you sell. You have the opportunity to wow them with your super-slick checkout process and exceptional customer service. And you can incorporate them into your email marketing and special offer campaigns.  You may have acquired them through another site but you should now aim to make them a lifetime customer of YOURS.

Choosing your option

Picking the most appropriate option depends on the nature of your business and where your customers are most likely to be. Finding the best shopping comparison engine needs a bit of research. If there are a lot of products similar to yours then you can assume that they have plenty of visitors looking for what you sell. On the flip side it puts you in a highly competitive and price-sensitive environment. 

We’ll talk more about how you handle pricing in a minute but I’d like to look first at a couple of online marketplace implementations. The point of this is to illustrate how different solutions suit different businesses.

Here’s an eBay store for Clippersharp, a business that specialises in animal grooming products.

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These are not typically the sorts of products that people would find through a shopping comparison engine. But using eBay allows Clippersharp to access a huge marketplace where people might be searching for related products.

We’ve created a direct integration so that products are listed and managed on eBay from within their website’s CMS (Content Management System). Stock control is also integrated so when items sell on the website, eBay or other channels the data is pulled back into the CMS to give one central location for orders and inventory management. eBay orders dispatched from within the CMS are marked as dispatched on eBay automatically as well.

In this implementation, the eBay store is acting as an extension of the website. It’s a bit like setting up a new branch in a big shopping mall.

It’s a common misconception that listing on marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, Google Shopping, Kelkoo, PriceRunner are very time consuming and this puts a lot of people off, however when it’s integrated seamlessly into your backend system it can really have an impact on your bottom line without the headaches.

Why not get in touch with us today to discuss how a multi-channel eCommerce solution could benefit your online marketing strategy.

Online Power Tools

Selling power tools online is a very different type of business to Clippersharp. There are large national competitors and the business is extremely price sensitive. 

Online Power Tools uses Google Shopping where the ‘online marketplace’ looks pretty much like a standard Google search page. 

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The main reason for using Google shopping is quite simply the visibility that it offers. Once again we automate the process of managing items within Google Shopping. The ensures that your listings are always as up-to-date as your website.

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And here’s how products show up in a pure comparison engine view:

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While there are potential drawbacks which we’ll cover below; the fact remains for both of these sites that a large percentage of traffic and sales come through these comparison engines and online marketplaces.

Price sensitivity

The biggest drawback with shopping comparison engines is that competition is primarily based on price. Seller ratings offer slightly richer data but essentially people are likely to be shopping for the best deal. As a result, what some sellers choose to do is to feed selected products into the comparison engines rather than their entire range so only their more competitive items are being displayed.

Using products where they are happiest to compete based on price means they can earn additional traffic that they then aim to turn into loyal customers.  There are potential opportunities for upselling and cross-selling too. You need to be careful with this as visitors are likely to be intent on buying a particular product and might not welcome distractions.

User Experience

That last point leads us back to the user experience.  If you are using shopping comparison engines to generate traffic, your user experience matters. Providing a straightforward and pleasant shopping experience means that the sale is more likely to be completed (you didn’t pay for that click for no return), and that people will be more likely to come straight back to your site the next time they want something.

Our tips for maximising your ROI from shopping comparison engines & marketplaces:

  • Spend some time researching the most appropriate one for your business; don’t just go for the cheapest.
  • Thoroughly research the costs involved e.g. how much will you need to pay per click to ensure your listings achieve suitable prominence?
  • Keep on top of the sites requirements for data feed. These can change from time to time and you don’t want to interrupt the flow of data or harm your chances of being shown in results.
  • Make sure you provide as much information on your product as possible including a number of high quality images always helps.
  • A number of comparison engines including Google Shopping display customer reviews from trusted 3rd parties such as Review Centre, Trustpilot & Feefo. You’re far more likely to get clicks when you have an array of verified customer reviews.
  • Have a strong strategy for retaining the customers you acquire through comparison engines.
  • Keep on top of your Analytics data. Monitor acquisitions and conversions to ensure you are get an acceptable return and leverage this data to maximise your ROI month on month.

I would strongly recommend to any eCommerce business that they look at comparison engines and online marketplaces. Even big well-known online retailers like John Lewis feel it’s worth the investment and they probably have a stronger brand recognition than most.

Here are some of the most common comparison engines and marketplaces that would be worth researching further to see if your business is a good fit:

Implementing an effective multi-channel eCommerce solution needs planning and structure. Get in touch and we’ll be glad to help.