The online-only retailer grew sales by 11.8% in 2014.
Microsoft has officially launched its Bing Shopping commerce portal.
Having killed Bing Cashback, Microsoft Corp. is offering online retailers free clicks from the Bing Shopping page as it positions Bing to better compete with the dominant shopping engine from Google Inc., which already offers e-retailers free clicks from its shopping section.
Bing also will offer online merchants that feed data to Bing Shopping paid listings that will provide them greater exposure, again following Google’s lead, search marketing experts say.
“I believe Microsoft will follow Google’s lead and have a free offering for merchants as well as an ever-expanding array of ad units and offerings that will get higher visibility than the free listings,” says Kevin Lee, CEO of search marketing firm Didit. “The free advertising products get the relationship started and the paid ad products are the ones that will get the visibility over time.” When consumers click on products listed in Google’s shopping page there is no click fee paid by the merchant that supplied the product feed. Bing Shopping now offers the same deal to advertisers.
“Bing’s immediate goal is to bring on as many merchants as possible,” says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., which helps connect retailers to shopping engines and portals.
A spokeswoman for Microsoft confirms that Bing Shopping is offering a product feed service for merchants at no cost, which enables their product listings and images to appear in search results as free placements. The Bing Shopping site, at Bing.com/Shopping, provides space for sponsored ads across the top and right side of web pages, similar to the general search results pages on Bing.com, but on both sites all listings that show product images are free listings, she adds. The company has not commented on whether it plans to introduce paid versions of product image ads.
But other search marketing experts agree with Lee and Wingo that Bing is positioning itself to introduce paid versions of content displaying product images along with other product details.
“Bing Shopping follows the model established by Google Base, which is smart,” he says. “It gives Bing flexibility to do the kinds of things Google is doing with Product Extension ads and Product Listing ads.” Google’s Product Extension and Product Listing ads let advertisers show product images under cost-per-click and cost-per-action models, respectively. Under cost-per-action, advertisers pay Google a fee whenever a consumer clicks and completes a specified action, such as making a purchase or signing up for an online sweepstakes. Google Base, which has been renamed Google Merchant Center, is where advertisers load product information and images that appear in Google Product Search listings.
With product data and images fed by retailers into Google Merchant Center, Google compiles data on how consumers are clicking on that content and uses that data to help determine relevancy in search results. Bing Shopping now will do the same with product information and images submitted by advertisers, who will have to properly submit their content to reap the maximum benefits through higher search rankings, experts say.
“Many of the same best practices with data feed submission to Google Product Search are necessary for merchants to succeed on Bing Shopping, such as submitting clear, descriptive data and mapping all necessary search attributes into the appropriate categories,” says Rick Backus, co-founder of CPC Strategy, a firm that helps retailers feed data to online shopping portals. “Bing’s data on search clicks will be part of its overall algorithm that ranks product search results, giving popular retailers an advantage.”
Wingo says he expects Microsoft to expand the volume of product attributes it lets merchants feed to Bing, a step that would enable it to better compete with Google Product Search and broaden the amount of product content that will appear in free as well as paid search results. “Bing will look to monetize the traffic it can generate with all of the content that it will be able to collect from the shopping feeds,” he says.
The launch of Bing Shopping coincides with the termination of Bing Cashback, a service that offered consumers advertiser-funded rebates. In the end, the Cashback program didn’t produce the results Microsoft had initially hoped for, the company says.
“We had over a thousand merchant partners delivering great offers to customers and seeing great ROI on their campaigns,” Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president, Microsoft’s Online Audience Business Group, wrote in a Microsoft blog last month. “But after a couple of years of trying, we did not see the broad adoption that we had hoped for.”
“Cashback was a big win for merchants and users, but I don’t know how big a win it was for Bing in terms of buying market share,” adds Michie.
Mehdi adds, however, that Bing Shopping will offer new search marketing features, such as a slideshow of images that let shoppers click among several product images and click any of them to make a purchase.