Sears Marketplace and the Importance of Brand Control

The launch of Marketplace at Sears.com underscores the limits of blind CSE syndication and the need for transparency, disclosure and control in strategic marketing partnerships.

Sears Marketplace launched last week with an impressive roster of retail clients for its new shopping portal.  On the surface, Sears appeared to have been quite successful at lining up an array of A-List partners.  Since PM Digital typically arranges and manages the feeds for these types of product listings, we were curious why many of our clients were there without our direct involvement.

It soon became clear that a few of our comparison shopping engine partners (CSEs) and their blind syndication networks were at play.  Our tracking revealed that Sears Marketplace was getting their content from Shopping.com.   Further research told us that Shopping.com was syndicating to Shop.com, which in turn was feeding to Sears Marketplace.

Unfortunately our own clients had never given permission to provide content to Sears Marketplace, and based on what many have told us over the past few days, they definitely would not have agreed to such a thing.  It is no surprise that marketers — especially those with upscale brands — would have preferred to decide for themselves whether partnering with Sears was brand appropriate.

This experience highlights the major shortcomings of working with some of the comparison shopping engines:  1) lack of transparency,  2) lack of disclosure, and 3) lack of control.

Up until now, we’ve accepted these inadequacies because CSE syndication partners have consisted primarily of other smaller or vertical shopping portals.  The Sears Marketplace situation is new territory and a game changer.  It can no longer be business as usual with CSEs and blind networks unless they make substantial changes to their I/Os that address the major issues and risks.

We saw many upscale brands running on Sears Marketplace yesterday.  They are slowly coming down.

It’s hard to believe that the various players involved with the Sears launch underestimated how other brands would feel.  But even more unsettling is how some folks thought they could bypass the types of discussions strategic partners must always have to collaborate and cooperate for a mutually agreeable outcome.

We are confident that marketers and CSEs will continue to work together and thrive.  But moving ahead, the industry may need to tighten the loose rules that some CSEs have played by up to now.  Marketers must control their brands – not the syndicators’ middlemen.

Suzy Sandberg is President of PM Digital.

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