How is the role of traditional price comparison sites going to change with Amazon’s and other big marketplaces’ increasing influence in Central Europe, as well as global services such as Google Shopping? What is tech disruption forcing these kinds of websites to abandon, and how do they innovate? What value are they going to provide in the upcoming years?
Still popular among users and definitely a part of multichannel selling strategy for many online retailers, it is not likely price comparison websites will crumble and fall any time soon. It is however possible that their role will change. We’ve looked into the near future of comparison sites with the heads of two main CEE players and one Czech one to add a local perspective: Frantisek Štrupl from Google Shopping Europe, Tomas Braverman from Heureka Group, and Milan Šmid from Zbozi.cz. The three of them were guests on Ecommerce Data Summit’s panel organized by Dataweps and led by Dataweps’ CEO, Jan Mayer. The event took place on March 29th during the Czech Online Expo 2019.
In a rapidly innovative market, how do comparison sites cope with current challenges?
(Frantisek Štrupl, Google): Google’s universal goal is to simplify any interaction with the online word for its users. Always putting the user first, we carefully design a synergy of all our services, Google Shopping being one of them. At this point, Google Shopping is making it easier for users to find and buy products as they search for them, and we are aspiring to cover the customer’s whole journey – from first intention to searching and finally shopping for their desired products.
(Tomas Braverman, Heureka Group): At Heureka, we strive to be the number one shopping guide helping consumers to shop well, and we can deliver on that promise thanks to the amount of data we have. Currently the value for the consumer lies in the vast choices available in both products and online stores. In pure marketing terms, these are the see and do phases (more on the See Think Do Care marketing funnel here). Our innovations are focusing on our ability to cover the whole process from think, see, and do, all the way to care, where we can already deliver thanks to our warranty.
(Milan Smid, Zbozi.cz): Our current development goes in the same direction, to be a go-to site for everyone at the beginning phase of their shopping journey, as well as in the middle of their journey. Our current challenge is to generate more traffic. Google’s effort is inspiring; however, we are a purely local service and want to focus solely on the Czech market. That’s where we are the strongest and where our services deliver the greatest value.
“Half of all buyers use these kinds of websites at some point in the buying process. The number is however decreasing even in the CEE region.”
By looking at the current CEE market, price comparison sites are still a very important part of the consumer’s journey, although it seems that the percentage has decreased in the last six years. How do you translate that into your product strategies?
(Tomas Braverman, Heureka Group): Those numbers are not alarming. We must take into account how the ecommerce environment has changed in just the last couple of years – and judge the numbers from this perspective. What is happening on a larger scale is that online shopping is a more and more integral part of our everyday lifestyles. We are getting used to shopping for everything online – food and produce being the main driver of the industry. Comparison sites are irrelevant for such kinds of products, however, and therefore cannot participate in this particular growth. Where we can maintain our position are categories that are more expensive and broadly distributed. What we see happening in these categories recently is that the number of online stores is improving their customer services, trying to keep customers and turn them into loyal fans. I think this is a healthy behavior on the market and we at Heureka welcome such pursuits.
(Milan Smid, Zbozi.cz): I agree that people should shop in a store that they like and have an ideally growing relationship with. This exact thing should be an additional value of price comparison sites in the near future – to showcase these online stores and highlight why a consumer should shop there and for what.
“Price comparison websites will highlight online stores that put emphasis on great delivery and exceptional customer care.”
With Google implementing features that weren’t at its disposal before, such as Product Listing Ads (PLA, images popping up at the top of the search engine), is this a threat for comparison sites? Is it stealing traffic?
(Tomas Braverman, Heureka Group): We might not be particularly happy about it, although we see it as only a particular part of a service. Comparison sites such as Heureka can offer much more. In a world where rating and evaluation play a bigger role than ever before, there is also the question of how consumers will distinguish quality sellers from untrustworthy ones.
(Frantisek Štrupl, Google): Google believes a wide range of shopping decisions requires simplification. Nowadays, people do not want to spend time searching through so many sites, comparing prices and looking for the best deals. Sure, there will always be people who enjoy it, but the majority needs not to think that much about where to search for and buy certain things. Our vision for the near future is that when you type “I want the best fridge,” Google Search will be able to provide you with the best possible solution tailored to your specific needs, based on data and signals.
“With growing saturation, and given the fact that product development is pricey, expanding abroad is definitely the number one topic discussed among sellers.”
Looking away from the end user for the time being and focusing on sellers, what is their current challenge? What are they dealing with the most?
(Frantisek Štrupl, Google): From our point of view, the main topic is expanding abroad. A rising number of CEE stores has hit the wall within their domestic markets and is more willing to sell abroad. I personally applaud this ambition as I think it is very healthy for business. There are two other topics increasing in value: one being data structure and quality, the second being automatic pricing and smart bidding strategies.
(Tomas Braverman, Heureka Group): Most of what we discuss with clients at Heureka Group revolves around data and proper data pairing and expansion. As we are currently present in nine countries, we are able to compare the client’s product portfolio with margins in other countries and provide them with product guidance and support.
(Milan Smid, Zbozi.cz): In our case we guide online stores around certification, product pairing and feed management.
Is there a scenario where the CEE market is dominated by one major player, particularly a global marketplace, and the price comparison sites cease to exist?
(Tomas Braverman, Heureka Group): I personally know that a couple of major online retailers count on this scenario in one of their business development strategies, but from my point of view, it is not likely to happen. I do not think that one major player will attract the necessary number of big retailers for such a ripple effect to happen. We can observe this phenomenon particularly with Amazon Italy, where price comparison sites still play a huge role, not allowing the marketplace to dominate the market.
(Milan Smid, Zbozi.cz): Global competition can also be seen not purely as a threat, but as a healthy force in the market, be it from China or the US. It is thanks to these major marketplaces that CEE consumers have learned to shop from abroad – and that is a positive trend overall.
(Frantisek Štrupl, Google): Predicting the future is tricky in general, as we do not know where the tech disruption will lead us in the next ten or so years. It is possible that mobile shopping will decrease in popularity and other ways will flourish, such as voice or visual search. If there are marketplaces or other players in the near future who seize such trends smartly, then who knows.