CSE Wishlist – Part 2

January 2, 2009

Digital Marketing ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor

As I mentioned in my last post, a major theme in this series is that of control for the merchants. Here is another CSE wishlist item in that vein:

More insight and control over affiliate partner sites.

For those who don’t know, some CSEs get a LOT of the traffic for which they charge merchants from affiliate partner sites. For example, PriceGrabber’s comparison shopping data is used on CNET and AOL Shopping. Shopping.com has hundreds of partners, and offers both a full API or widgets for the less savvy. There are many more examples, enough to make one’s head spin, but that is not the focus here.

As a merchant, it is difficult to know what percent of traffic is coming from these partner sites and whether that traffic is converting. The traffic spikes I mentioned in my last post sometimes blindside not only the merchant but the CSEs themselves because they are the product of promotions run by these partner sites.

Shopping.com has taken a step in the right direction by introducing their Value Based Pricing program, which is intended to offset the lower return delivered by some of these partner sites. The system basically lowers the CPC charged for clicks originating from sites that yield lower conversion rates. Kudos to the SDC team for this innovation, but to the merchant, it is still a black box. Merchants would prefer to be at the helm rather than be reassured that something is being done about it.

I think it is fair to include new merchants in the entire network, but allow them to opt out on the partner level. This is not just a way for merchants to control conversion, but also cut back on spend in lieu of the additional budget controls discussed last time.

I am trying to be realistic about these requests, so it may be more likely that CSEs publish a list of partner sites or maybe report how much traffic comes from the network. Regardless of the details I think any step toward transparency would be welcome, but the ultimate goal should be to allow merchants some level of control.