Indexing the online mall

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Last week, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released an update to “The Internet and Consumer Choice” report noting online research and purchase patterns for music, cell phones and real estate. The key finding was somewhat disturbing for the online marketer. “The online mall helps people sort through product choice, but it is not the only method they use to assess products and not a place where people often close the deal,” reads the first line of the report summary. Clearly, most writers will spin this news with a negative tone. The experienced marketer, on the other hand, will see a clear opportunity: how best to index the online mall.

It was very timely, then, that I recently spoke with Rory Cumming, CEO of ShopWiki, a shopping engine within the AlleyCorp family. His firm indexes more than 246 million products, with the end goal of giving consumers more choice and power when making a decision, be it online or offline. “ShopWiki was born out of frustration,” said Cumming, relaying how Dwight Merriman, chairman and co-founder of AlleyCorp, and Eliot Horowitz set out to level the playing field in 2005. The end result was the launch of ShopWiki in 2006.

So what is so different about this shopping comparison site? The primary difference is that ShopWiki actively crawls the Web, as opposed to simply taking feeds merchants who only include the products they want to bid on. (ShopWiki will take a feed from a limited number of very large sites, such as Amazon.) This might seem intuitive for the search marketer, but even Google's product search has not yet mastered product crawls.


Which brings us to the second key differentiator: an emphasis on user experience. When the better product crawler returns a myriad product results, the next challenge is improving the presentation and usability of the site. An early feature of ShopWiki was the color selector, a very simple visual tool to narrow down results. Another consumer plus is a mobile application, which serves as a price checker for the in store purchaser. And of course there is the wiki in ShopWiki; anyone can update the buying guides.

Search engine marketers will enjoy the news that ShopWiki is true believer when it comes to search. “If you don't have search competency and you are an online marketer, you are dead in the water,” said Cumming. Given the breadth of products offered, the firm cleverly observes traffic, language and action patterns. “We find that the people using the site know what they want,” said Cumming, adding that they also observe obvious trends, such as a very clear holiday or wedding season. With so many products, the long tail is also in play, to the benefit of the customer. “There are a lot of pages with very few pageviews,” remarked Cumming. “ShopWiki is where you can find things you can't find elsewhere, and at the best price.”

So what is next for ShopWiki? Like many online marketers, the firm is looking overseas for growth. The site is currently operating in the UK and Australia, beta testing in France and crawling other countries.

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