The State of Product Feed Management

The savviest Web merchants, those looking to expose more consumers to more of their products more often, rely heavily on a broad distribution of their product feeds.

So what is a data feed? Think of it as a virtual catalog of products. This compilation of product inventory information includes important details including product identifiers such as name, description, price, availability, paths to product images and pages, and comes in the form of files such as XML or CSV.

While certainly not a new promotional technique in any sense of the word, product feeds have become a mainstay of e-commerce marketing (and for affiliate marketers as well) and it looks to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Distributing Product Feeds

For Internet retailers, the vendor landscape of comparison shopping engines (CSEs), those destinations where product feeds are distributed and managed, is by all accounts full but continues to grow, keeping pace with the ’Net’s evolution itself. Most merchants are likely familiar with the leading comparison shopping destinations including Google Product Search, NexTag, PriceGrabber, Bing Shopping,, Amazon Product Ads, Shopzilla, Become, Pronto and TheFind, but there are others. Many others, in fact.

For example, savvy merchants are utilizing some relatively obscure networks for added exposure including,, NewEgg Marketplace and Underbid, which all work on a cost-per-acquisition basis. Merchants with product feed management experience are also venturing into affiliate networks. Providers such as LinkShare, Commission Junction, ShareaSale, LinkConnecter, AffiliateFuture, AvantLink and ClixGalore, among others, all provide merchants with a way to distribute their feeds to qualified website affiliates and publishers who in turn promote products to consumers visiting their own sites.

The Demand for Better Feeds

With so many options for merchants, however, and with the many complexities surrounding the actual process of working with data feeds, venturing into this promotional type can be overwhelming in both cost and time spent on management — which can be immense. When coupled with continuing technological and industry advancements and improvements, it has kept many merchants at arm’s length. For many, it remains something that can not be ventured into casually.

For example, late August 2011 saw NexTag release brandlevel bidding functionality within its Merchant Dashboard bidding tool. Merchants cannot only manage their bids by category now but target specific brands as well. Perennial CSE leader Shopzilla added several new biddable categories in the past quarter, and Bing Shopping added several new search refinements, including vastly improved “sale” filters and shopping list functionality.

Google also announced several important changes to its product search feed specification which went into effect in late September 2011. If you’re an Internet retailer and use Google Product Search as a channel to promote products, these developments should be top of mind — primarily because of the sheer volume of the Google Product Search. The changes relate primarily to providing shoppers with more accurate and “fresher” information. Google is now requiring merchants to show the availability of products, include the appropriate Google product category, and is also making the image link mandatory as well. For retailers selling apparel, merchants will need to include information such as size and color as well as for whom the product is designed (age and gender).

As consumers look for the very best deals on the products they want, comparison shopping engines are retooling their interfaces and their services to provide users with an experience that aims toward and supports conversion.

Just Outsource It

When you bundle the many options merchants have at their disposal to promote feeds, with the constant rate of change of these services and the Web as a whole, it’s no wonder the most sophisticated and savvy merchants outsource their data feed management.

Merchants interested in distributing their product feeds must face a harsh reality — the work that goes into it can be cumbersome if not downright tedious. Merchants going it alone must be registered with each and every shopping engine they want their products to appear on, they must maintain their data feeds, reloading data daily or as necessary. They must also understand the various formats each shopping engine requires such as naming conventions and data-feed specifications. Keeping track of performance is another obligation most merchants don’t think about and likely where many fail.

Fortunately, there are many vendors which support merchants’ interest in distributing their product feeds. ChannelAdvisor and Mercent are used by many of the Web’s most successful merchants, but there are many others including GoDataFeed, FeedPerfect, FusePump and Channel Intelligence.

What these solutions providers offer to merchants is a simpler way to manage their product feed distribution. So what is it that they actually do? On the whole, the process includes feed normalization for different CSEs and affiliate networks, appropriate and optimal category selection, and support for the maintenance of other mandatory feed elements including SKU’s product descriptions, a variety of image sizes, stock availability, price, search terms and even currency, industry-specific product identifiers such as UPC or ISBN and the last time the feed was updated.

In the End, There Was Data

Internet retailers avoiding distribution of their product feeds are missing out on more website traffic, as well as more sales and revenue. With a solid understanding of the e-commerce market landscape, however, Web-based merchants can be on the fast track to greater exposure and profits.

 Author: Peter Prestipino 

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