Standardisation of shopping engine feeds meets with problems


Industry bodies are trying to push through a standard for shopping feed files A recent meeting of the Arts trade association feed standards committe had a low turnout from shopping engines.
One of the big problems with shopping feeds is the wide range of different taxonomies, categories that merchants and shopping engines use to categorize merchandise in their offering. The forms that merchants must fill out to send their product data to the engines also differ widely, increasing the chance of error and the work that marketers must perform to get items listed. For example, Yahoo! Shopping has two mandatory fields, 13 optional ones and 40 possible setting combinations for each SKU; Shopping.com has one mandatory field of 21 characters with three options; and Shop.com has four fields of 255 characters each. Other metadata can also be handled differently from engine to engine—things like global shipping and payment settings, feed file requirements, and submission data.
Standards would reduce the overheads in generating shopping feeds for the ecommerce merchants, improve the return on investment for marketing on shopping engines.
One issue that came up in a recent shopping portal representative was whether to require merchants to offer their data feeds in extensible markup language (XML), a text format originally developed for large-scale electronic publishing. Many merchants now send their feeds in the form of highlighted spread sheets and data streams delimited by commas—an old holdover that’s relatively easy to program, but also likely to contain undetected errors that can get their product data left out of a shopping engine index. The concensus is that XML is the future, but uptake is slow among some older shopping portals.
The advantage of better shoping feed standards is the ability to use richer data. The ecommerce retailers want to provide it and the shopping engines want to use to on their portal. Standadized XML shopping feeds will arrive in the future.

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