Search Engine Guide: Searching for Democracy: Right to Shop, Right to Sell

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The world of search has expanded enormously in recent years. Niche industries such as travel search, local search and job search take headlines, largely by virtue of the number of new players surfacing in each. And arguably no segment of this grand arena has received more attention than shopping search.

Search is changing the way consumers shop and merchants sell online. The proliferation of e-commerce globally is a democratizing force in retail for both consumers and merchants, and over time it will help create the world's largest hypermarket - online.

Since its creation, the promise of the Internet has been that it makes available immense amounts of information to anyone willing to look for it. Consumers spend less time searching for information in print or on television and are instead transferring their research needs to the Internet in a tectonic shift of media use.

Since almost every one of the world's 6.4 billion people is a consumer on some level, whether he or she is buying food, clothing, eyeglasses, appliances or iPods, this shift holds a powerful potential. It means that shoppers in Berlin, NH, can have, and have come to expect, the same access to an array of products and prices as those in Berlin, Germany.

In turn, merchants from Berlin - either one - can reach shoppers from New York, London, Boise or Paris. The Internet has allowed a reversal of roles, in a sense. Consumers now are looking for merchants, and merchants simply need to address the wide consumer base that is readily available. The advent of comparison-shopping services and search engine marketing makes merchants visible and accessible to those customers who want to find them.

But merchants have not shifted their efforts to this new medium as quickly as consumers, an inaction that has resulted in a stark imbalance in the supply and demand of e-commerce leads. The price of lead referrals is much lower than it theoretically should be or than it would be were merchant demand gaining at a pace proportionate to the increase in consumer supply.

This imbalanced environment holds enormous promise for online retailers. Not only can they be players in the space for what is, in essence, a short-term discount, but the amount of precision that they can apply to comparison-shopping and SEM campaigns makes such ventures immediately ROI-positive.

For example, merchants should provide as much detail on product descriptions, prices, availability and the like as possible. When these more avid, mature online consumers go looking for a Nikon D70 digital camera for $900-$1,000, they are quickly and directly linked to the merchant that can give them what they want. Those consumers become not just shoppers, but informed and confident buyers.

Most importantly, retailers are able, through these precise campaigns, to connect with a global customer base. Shopping search has given all merchants the ability to achieve equal prominence online alongside existing mega-merchants such as Tesco, Wal-Mart and Sony.

The intersection of search and e-commerce not only has democratized retail, it has created a new tool for facilitating free-market movements by making retail a true two-way street.

For more articles from The Direct Marketer's Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing, visit

A PDF of the guide is available at:

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