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Standardizing Comparison Shopping Feeds

About a year ago, I floated the idea of the industry working together to standardize the formats used to send data to and receive data from the shopping comparison engines.

After much work from many folks, this dream is starting to become a reality.

There will be a press release going on the wires next week from NRF and ARTS on this initiative, as well as an announcement at Shop.org. I don’t want to jump the release date, so I’ll hold my comments for next Tuesday.

I’m pleased this effort is starting to gain some momentum, and am delighted by the many players who have signed on.

For background, here’s the original post on the project.

Date: Fri, 23 Sep 2005 14:25:36 -0000
To: web_advertising_roundtable@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Proposal To Standardize Shopping Comparison Feeds

Hi!

I’d like to bounce an idea off this group: I want to garner support
for developing a single XML data feed spec to support all current
shopping comparison sites.

Currently, each of the major URL-based or SKU-based online advertising
venues (Shopping.com, Froogle, Shopzilla, Yahoo Product Submit, Y!
Shopping, Pricegrabber, MSN Shopping, NexTag, CNET/MySimon, etc etc
etc) have different formats for accepting data from retailers. And
each takes a different approach when reporting cost data back to
advertisers. Some don’t yet provide advertisers the detailed click
and cost data advertisers need to run their campaigns efficiently.

We know the result — advertising via shopping comparison feeds is
currently a pain for many retailers. And many of the feed engines are
small, lacking enough traffic to drive meaningful sales. Faced with
painful setup and likely small resulting sales, many advertisers skip
using many of the feeds.

Outsourcing doesn’t solve the problem for most retailers. Search
marketing agencies face the same economics. Doing a good job building
and optimizing feeds has cost, but again the resulting retailer sales
are often small, often too small to support outsourcing.

It is a chicken-and-egg problem: many retailers don’t advertise on the
feeds because the implementation cost is too high given the available
sales; this in turn depresses revenue to the feed engines; this in
turn hinders the feed engine’s efforts to build traffic to their sites
through advertising and content; this in turn reduces the importance
of the feeds; which in turn keeps sales low.

One way to create a win-win-win-win situation (for
retailers-agencies-engines-consumers, all around) is to take some
friction out of the system.

How?

Standardize the format retailers use to send data to the feeds, and
standardize the format the engines use to report detailed cost and
click data back to retailers.

After the Civil War, different parts of the country used different
size railroad tracks, greatly hindering commerce. The current state
of SKU-based advertising feels alot like that.

After much debate, in 1886 our nation’s railroads settled on standard
rails set 4′ 9″ apart. That’s what we need now need for feeds:
agreed-upon XML standards for submitting products and getting back
detailed cost data.

What would happen if we had such a standard? Retailers would spend
more advertising on the dollars on the feed engines, allowing them to
expand their audience. Consumers would have an easier time finding
products across a broad range of merchants, growing the e-commerce
industry. Friction would decrease, leading to more efficient markets.
Merchants selling good products at fair prices would see their sales
grow.

Like this idea? If so, what are next steps?

We could use this forum to agree on wording of an open letter
expressing support for this idea. Folks who wanted to could sign the
letter in support of the concept. No real commitment involved, just
lending your name in support of the idea. We’d submit this
letter to the larger e-retailer community, the trade pubs, the
agencies, and the feed engines. Those of us who cared enough to put
in some time would convene a small working group. The group would
have members representing retailers, agencies, and feed engines. I
care about this enough to put in the time, and would volunteer
as one of the agency representatives.

The group would combine the current feed submission formats into one
common spec for describing products. And the group would develop a
common standard for reporting back costs. The hard costs of this
project would be modest — maybe some consulting hours from real XML
wizards — we’d ask the engines to chip in to cover those.

The best is often the enemy of the good. If we went for a perfect
solution, we’d get bogged down forever in the complexities of retail;
the process would stall; and we’d lose the baby with the bathwater. A
good simple 80% solution would move our industry forward
tremendously. Think of the RSS spec for content publishing — RSS
isn’t perfect, but it is decent and it is simple, and so has become a
raging success.

If all went well, there’s an outside chance we could have a spec done
in a year, in time for Christmas ’06. That’d be amazingly cool.
Imagine if next year you had the opportunity to increase your
advertising reach across all the feed engines, relatively easily.

So, what do you think? Comments? Suggestions? Thrown tomatoes?
Volunteers?

Alan

Well, we didn’t quite make the Christmas ’06 deadline, but good progress has been made.

More on this next Tuesday.

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  • Alan Rimm-Kaufman
    Alan Rimm-Kaufman founded the Rimm-Kaufman Group...
  • Comments
    3 Responses to “Standardizing Comparison Shopping Feeds”
    1. Alan

      In the UK data feed are less disparate the US, with affiliate companies forming a unifying body

      Can I volunteer some resources for the data standard work. Looking forward to seeing the standard (and its uptake).

    2. Alan Rimm-Kaufman Alan says:

      Hi Paul –

      Thanks for offering to volunteer!

      To get involved, I’d reach out to Jay Heavilon of MARS @ 423.648.5800 — he is chairing the spec committee for ARTS.

      Thanks!

      Alan

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    1. Enclick Blog says:

      Developments on the Standard Universal Data Feeds Front

      An announcement is due from shop.org and ARTS (Association of Retail Technology Standards) next Tuesday on Data Feed Standards in the ecommerce sector. Mirroring Dr Tim Berners Lee’s efforts to structure the world’s data with the semantic web project…