Specialized shopping search engines are becoming increasingly important for consumers. Among the largest of these shopping engines is TheFind, which receives more than 25 million visits per month. The products of most ecommerce merchants are likely already featured on that site, as the company uses patented search-engine-type spiders to index most every online product for sale. Siva Kumar is co-founder and CEO of TheFind and he joined us recently to talk about it all.
Practical eCommerce: Tell us about TheFind.
Siva Kumar: “TheFind is a shopping search engine that’s unique because of its comprehensiveness. Using state-of-the-art software, much of it patented, we deliver a complete experience to shoppers. It helps shoppers find every product from all the stores, along with all the coupons, reviews, store information, local addresses, and more, that you would need when you actually shop. We save you time and money when you want to buy something online, or even if it’s at a local store.
“As a company, we are five years old. We are still private and we are funded by venture capital, so the company is actually owned by the employees and the investors. We launched TheFind.com during the holiday 2006 season. Since then we’ve been of course growing very quietly, but very steadily. In May 2010, comScore estimates that TheFind has now become the number two shopping search engine, with about 27 million monthly visits. Our offices are in Mountain View, Calif., which is probably the search headquarters of the world, and we also have a small office in San Francisco.”
PEC: Why should ecommerce merchants be interested in TheFind?
Kumar: “The uniqueness about it is that we want to include every store and every product. Something that smaller ecommerce merchants may not know about is, we’re already probably crawling their websites. And their products may be actually on TheFind. That’s our way of making sure that everyone is included, even if they don’t know about us or may not be able to create a data feed.
“For merchants, it’s absolutely free to access our merchant center to make sure that their website is registered, that we’re crawling it, and make sure that they enter data about themselves like their logo and their address. Then, when the consumers find their products, they actually know a lot about the merchant before they click through.
“The visitors on TheFind are finding products from lots and lots of small merchants. Last month, consumers using TheFind went to 150,000 different merchant websites. There are lots of small merchants who have great products, so that’s why I think your readers would be interested in knowing about TheFind and how they can do better on TheFind.
“If they go to the merchant center, they’ll find instructions on how they can claim their website. They could do all the things I mentioned, like submit a data feed, upload logos, upload coupons, all for free.”
PEC: Why would merchants need to submit a data feed if you’re crawling their sites automatically?
Kumar: “Think of it as a basic foundation. We crawl everybody’s website, but we don’t crawl everybody’s website every day. We crawl some of the folks once every couple of days. So, things may change. The prices may change. They may want to submit more information like UPC barcodes and manufacturers’ part numbers that may not be on the website. So, that is where a data feed comes in. It gives the merchant much more control over data that’s been presented to the consumers. So, we provide a method for you to do both: Either let us crawl the website, or take more control over what you’d like to show and submit a data feed.”
PEC: How does the technology identify only products for sale and not other products?
Kumar: “Today everyone is familiar with search engine crawlers that crawl peoples’ websites, and we have a similar crawler, except this crawler is a specialist. It looks for ecommerce websites–sites that have things like buy buttons and shopping carts, and in some cases, SSL checkout. Then we try to crawl every page those sites have, because a lot of them are very rich in products and we just don’t want to miss anything.
“Inevitably, in an ecommerce website, there are content pages that are browse-centric or review-centric (buying guides and stuff like that). And, they point to product pages, which all look pretty similar. They have one product that’s featured along with pricing information and titles, so they look like a pretty structured page. Our crawler is able to identify what those sorts of pages look like and then extract out the products.
“Think of it as a very smart software that understands the look of ecommerce websites and is able to figure out what are products, what is for sale, what is the price, what is the color and brand, and so on. A lot of this is patented. We’ve got five patents to date.”
PEC: Is there the equivalent of search engine optimization techniques for merchants that want their products to appear more prominently on TheFind?
Kumar: “My suggestion is to follow the simple SEO guidelines that you would follow for a web search engine to make sure that their products show up in web search. If the site has already been optimized for a web search engine, it should do pretty well.”
PEC: Do you index pages?
Kumar: “Yes, absolutely we index pages. We can get the products on those pages. You can find out what products are featured and what products are related to other products, because merchants like to merchandise up-sells and cross-sells. There’s a lot of interesting information from websites that aren’t in the data feed. We certainly love to learn more about where the merchants think about their products.”
PEC: Most consumers are used to using Google and probably like it. So, why wouldn’t a consumer just shop on Google versus on TheFind.com?
Kumar: “I think the starting point of our company is our sole focus on a great consumer experience for shopping search. We measure how well we do (or not) based on how many people come back after coming to our site first. And, if you look at that metric, we’re doing very well.
ListenListen to the complete audio interview with Siva Kumar.
“Of course, a lot of people find us first through a web search. Maybe they’re on a web search engine looking for a product and they usually find our site. But then they come back at a very high rate. The rate of people coming back on our site is 2.3 to 2.8 times a month. For all the other shopping engines on average including in the top shopping search engine, the rate is 1.3.
“A simple reason is, we provide everything you’re looking for in shopping in a nice, highly visual experience. It expands all the products from all the stores, even if they don’t have data feeds, and combines that with coupons, reviews, store information, and local information. That’s making it really, really easy for you to shop in one click, and that’s simply how we make sure our experience is the best.”
PEC: You mentioned the merchant center interface. Tell us about other premium packages available for ecommerce merchants interested in becoming more prominent on TheFind.com.
Kumar: “We don’t currently have a public premium program. We are in the process of rolling it out, but that’s actually slated for this fall. We want to tailor the program to help drive even more traffic and sales to merchants who like what they get from the free product. The program is in the beta test right now, and it’s a cost-per-sale-based program. It’s not a cost-per-click. We want to be aligned with the interest of the merchant and the consumer. If people want to buy from a store, we want to make sure that we deliver a great experience. It’s slated to be rolled out just before the holiday season so everyone has a chance to learn about it and start using it.”
PEC: Tell us a little bit about your personal background and how TheFind came to be.
Kumar: “I’m very typical of the people in the Silicon Valley. I worked at some of the well-known companies, Intel, Oracle, Apple, and then the entrepreneur bug caught me and I became a start-up person doing my own thing. So, this is my seventh company. Most of the others were not in the consumer Internet space or not doing shopping search. They were all in enterprise software and telecommunications applications.
“The reason I got into this, TheFind.com, was I was watching my wife shopping online a lot, and I found out that she was extremely frustrated with using web search and other shopping sites to do her shopping. That led me to look at the area in more detail. I found out that it had a lot of technology that was missing and that’s the genesis of the idea. So, it’s pretty simply a day-to-day problem and I see it’s a big area that’s growing very rapidly and in need of better solution.”
PEC: Anything else on your mind for our readers, who are mainly ecommerce merchants?
Kumar: “Oh yeah. There are a lot of interesting ways to marry the influence of your friends and associates to help understand what to buy. Another area that we find very interesting is mobile, not more for mobile transactions, but as a way to influence what people are looking for and finding alternate ways to buy. We’re actually the data source behind all of the popular mobile price scanning applications. So, we see about 15 million mobile searches monthly and that compares to about 65 to 70 million online searches. So, mobile is becoming a big part of how people are using shopping information.
“I urge all the readers of your site to make sure their websites are optimized for mobile in the sense that they have mobile CSS [cascading style sheets], but also that they use some of the third party checkout options like Google Checkout, PayPal Checkout and Amazon payments, because consumers are not going to whip out their wallet when they’re out and about. But they would certainly use one of those checkout [payment] options.”