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Laying Tracks For Shopping Feed Standards

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Submitting product data to comparison shopping sites and search engines can be a taxing process. Each engine has its own feed format and special requirements that create extra work and lower ROIs for retailers while reducing revenue and efficiency for the engines (especially the smaller ones). Understandably, then, a movement has begun to standardize the process.

Last week the Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) met with retailers and major search engines in Menlo Park, Calif., to discuss moving forward on an open standard format for SKU-based advertising. One of the champions of the standardization movement is Rimm-Kaufman Group (RKG) president and chief technology officer (CTO) Alan Rimm-Kaufman.

Rimm-Kaufman calls the current hodgepodge of feed formats “a Tower of Babel” as retailers have to learn several communication methods to submit product information (prices, thumbnails, product descriptions) across engines like Froogle, eBay, Amazon, et cetera. Retailers would like to easily participate in comparison engines, says Rimm-Kaufman, but all these engines require slightly different formats.

One of Rimm-Kaufman’s main talking points is a comparison to the early days of the railroad. In the 19th century, when tracks were being laid across the country, different areas of the country had different track widths. The nation needed a standard size for interstate travel or “in different places, your wheels wouldn’t fit the track.”

Rimm-Kaufman, with the backing of Shop.org and the National Retail Foundation, is looking to create tracks that fit the wheels in the online retail world. After the Menlo Park meeting, Rimm-Kaufman said the choice for standardized feeds “will most likely be XML.”

Alan says choosing a format like XML will do what HTML did for the early days of the Web. “Your vanilla HTML works across the Web,” he said. HTML has had a tremendous time-saving benefit, says Rimm-Kaufman, because of interoperability.

Standardization would allow feeds to work on an “atomic” level, where details can be modified and an environment that supports creativity is developed. In addition to that, what these organizations have in mind is a system that also allows data feedback from the engines.

This data include an acknowledgement feed and an advertising cost feed that show the engine received the feed successfully and how well syndicated ads are performing.

“You can say, I spent X in ads, I got X in sales. Maybe some elements in the feeds are working really well, and maybe some aren’t,” said Rimm-Kaufman.

The cost of tweaking every feed for every engine along with the inability to measure the feed’s success often results in small retailers avoiding smaller engines because of the time involved and the return for those efforts.

Rimm-Kaufman says that there’s been a large amount of support for creating the data feed standard, especially from big players like Google, AOL, and Yahoo! ARTS is shooting for a beta test of the standardized system to be in use by the Christmas season 2006.

Those interested in the project’s development can keep track at OnlineFeeds.org.

Laying Tracks For Shopping Feed Standards
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