Comparison Shopping Engines – A New Player in the Hotel Industry?
As we continue to look for ways to overcome our economic challenges, we need to consider all mediums that hotel shoppers are turning to. Within the most effective distribution channel, the Internet, comparison shopping engines (CSEs) are emerging. CSEs are basically search engine sites that allow visitors to shop for and compare products and services, including hotels. These sites rank hotels based on price, location and consumer reviews, pulling room prices from hundreds of other data points across the Internet.
Pay-per-click ads, a feature of some shopping engines, work the same way as typical search engines. A company "bids" on certain terms, and a listing or ad shows up at the top of the search results page. For example, a hotel in Nassau bids on the search term "Bahamas Hotels," and their ad shows up at the top of the results. These highly visible ads are easy to work within the confines of a small budget, and the property isn't charged until the visitor clicks on the ad and goes to the property's Website. The higher you bid, the better your pay-per-click ad placement.
Perhaps most important of all, CSEs lead to qualified shoppers, who are in either the latter research stage or the purchase stage of the buying process. This means that properties on CSEs are reaching shoppers that are right on the brink of becoming buyers. The shoppers are searching for hotels in a particular area and comparing prices. It's the hotels' last chance to influence the potential buyer and a win-win situation for shoppers and properties alike.
Some of the most popular hotel CSEs-- Kayak, HotelsCombined, SideStep and Yahoo!Shopping - all offer similar features, such as product picture and description, merchant logo, coupons or promotions and merchant rating. Yahoo!Shopping is currently the largest and most popular CSE, but it does not focus solely on hotels.
Larger is not always better for the seller. Although larger shopping engines are visited by more shoppers, a smaller shopping engine, especially those that focus on travel, will obviously have more hotel shoppers, making for the best place to reach serious shoppers. Savings are also of interest to the merchant, and some smaller CSEs have even rejected the pay-per-click ad scenario and charge a flat monthly fee for ads.
Although CSEs are gaining popularity among consumers and businesses are warming up to the idea, the concept is still in its early stages, particularly in the travel industry. There's no certainty as to how popular these sites will become or whether they'll be a mainstay in properties' marketing mixes. However, more and more hotels are venturing into the world of these shopping engines, and they're definitely worth some research. At a minimum, they're forcing hotels to focus on rate parity, so that shoppers see consistent prices across sites.
To learn more and see how the process works, check out the aforementioned hotel CSEs. Who knows just how efficient and how effective these shopping engines will become, but as with most things online, innovation is just around the corner. Go take a look.