What are customers who shop on CSEs looking for, and why is that important?

For me, Target is the Starbucks of the retail world. I enjoy the clean environment, and will sacrifice slightly higher prices for it. Not to mention I’m a sucker for the color red- and puppies!

Target’s setup is no coincidence, as it is tailored for me- the consumer. Target likely spent a pretty penny(MRI machines are expensive!) to understand what it is I like- so they can give it to me, and I will in turn remain a dedicated customer, having been targeted by Target.(See what I did there?)

Unfortunately for retailers which only have physical stores, the trend towards online shopping, especially for social net-workers has been snowballing steadily over time, increasingly merging towards mo
bile purchases.

Luckily,unlike brick and mortar retailers, online retailers have the advantage in already knowing a lot about their customer(saves ya a whole lot of chedda!). Even more so for those selling on CSEs.

And that my friends, is very good news for you.

So why are shoppers purchasing items on CSEs?

What Customers Want- no,not you Mel Gibson!

The major, and most obvious
element of CSE shopping is right in the name-Comparison.

Shoppers can view many more products than they might in physical stores: comparing them against one another based on merchant variables.

Comparison shopping engines SKU- up products which are the same, so shoppers can decide what variables are important to them. Instead of scrolling through a whole page of products, shoppers can look at one long page, which lists the same product from different merchants.

Although not as frequent with soft goods(items with unique MPN’s, e.g: clothing), shoppers are going to these sites to look at multiple variables, in order to determine what product is for them.

What variables you say?


He is one cheap sheep!

Many customers  are looking for the best price, and will often filter products on CSEs this way. A retailer with lower listed prices, will generally win those sales, even if they generally SKU-up lower.

Don’t labor under the misconception that bottom barrel prices will create conversions however. These are often avoided, as shoppers may be suspect of quality or abandon a cart due to added charges(more about that later).

The trick here is that you show up on comparison pages related to your product, or fairly high on
searches which are relevant to your product. Exposure in broad searches can be harmful to ROI, but not showing up in relevant long-tail searches is equally  hurtful. Categorization and product descriptions should consequently warrant major consideration.

Brand loyalty is not a major determinant for some CSE shoppers, so smaller companies may have an advantage if they play their cards right.

Shoppers who are comparison shopping are also most likely to look at all the products on a comparison page, so even if you are listed near the bottom of the page, you’re likely to get some attention.


Other customers may be concerned with shipping costs, and will choose a merchant based on free shipping, or lower shipping prices. Other customers may pay more for a product if they get free shipping in return. Again, merchants can tailor their feed, and account settings to reflect this preference.
Be sure to always include shipping price- customers who have to click thru for that information may not always translate into a conversion(in fact they often don’t as some often assume shipping is included in the overall price). Like Google, CSEs will not correct shipping information for you.


Just like shipping, customers don’t like to be blindsided when they reach checkout by additional charges- even if its just tax. This can be a major reason for cart abandonment, and an attractive element of CSE’s, which list these prices as part of the “final price” on the comparison page. Shoppers typically accept tax as a par the course(they’ll buy your product even if its price may be higher with tax), but can get annoyed when that information is not presented to them.

Avoid the dreaded “see site for tax,” or only listing tax information on the merchant page. Unhappy, or surprised customers don’t translate into high conversion rates.


Whether just broadly browsing or searching for a specific long tail search, it can be frustrating to encounter products which are not relevant. Online shoppers are often  looking for a specific thing(that’s why their not browsing at the mall). Even worse- if your product is not relevant, but interesting or unique- it may get click thru’s solely based on interest.

What CSE shoppers are looking for

One of these things is not like the other ones, one of these things does not belong…

While you can’t avoid clicks that are generated due only to product uniqueness- you can prevent that product from showing up where it doesn’t belong.

Customer Reviews:

Although lower prices are gr
eat, customers are increasingly aware of product quality, and receptive towards their peers evaluations of products(such as on popular websites like the Consumerist). Basic psychology notes that people relate to those similar to themselves. Seeing “real customers” on commercials coerces viewers to add credence to a product.

Products with glowing reviews will most likely receive purchases even if the price may be higher than its competition. Even negative reviews are sometimes helpful, in establishing a realistic customer perspective. A merchant who only has sunny, Disney-esque reviews many raise suspicion. One with some negative reviews may actually be more believable, as they appear more genuine.

Often customer complaints are specific to the shopper as well, and may not be applicable to other customers. E.g, Customer input  which notes short cord length for headphones may not
concern a shopper looking for headphones to use with his or her laptop.

Even more important,as CSEs compare the same product, merchant attributes can be extremely influential for  customers. If they can buy the same product from 7 merchants- they want the merchant with the best service, security(whoa facebook backlash) and quality, as reflected in the customer survey.

A customer may be more likely to buy a slighty more expensive product if they notice the merchant service is helpful. I love Zappos for this reason, and will buy items there 9/10 times since I know how easy returns are, and how helpful customer service representatives are.

For merchants this means ensuring customer survey pixels are installed(preferably rotating), and that customer review is encouraged.

Visual Shopper

I dare you to not look at those buildings!

Online shopping is unique in that shoppers can rely on only one of their senses to determine product quality- vision. Back to PSY101– humans are primed by visual cues, and influenced by images heavily.(This is also important for landing page optimization,and webpage optimization.etc) Notice how this post started out with a cute puppy?

Purchases are hinged entirely on the images and written information which accompany products. Missing, low quality or incorrect information and or images will highly reduce the likelihood of a conversion.

Oh this? Its just a pony…

Google’s recent  shopping homepage design reflects this trend, as it is highly image centric, much like its shopping results, which feature large product images. The same can be said for many of the CSE homepages and product listings, which largely feature images. Just look at the popularity of the new Amazon Fire, which has a homepage comprised of numerous images.

 Time Conscious

Lets face it: Online and CSE shoppers are typically impatient, and or don’t have much free time. Get in the car,drive to the store, shop around,talk to salesperson, look for sales, purchase items, take them home… phew- so much work!

Is this what a Twinkey looks like after 20 years?

How much easier is it to shop in your pajamas, or on your lunch break?

Online shoppers are typically these people- and if they don’t have time to go to the store- they don’t have time to waste on multiple check out steps, clicking thru to see prices, or trying to decipher product information.These shoppers are more likely to quickly dismiss a product if it reflects any of these errors- so avoid them like the plague!


Your customer is a busy fellow. He/she values convenience and price, but still likes a quality product and effective merchant services.

Some also like Pinya Coladas, and getting caught in the rain.

Be in the know!

New Google enforcement

CSE Tips

BingShopping Merge




The Google Shopping Guide: 2017 Edition

Next-Level Implementations in 2017 for Advertisers on Google

About the AuthorMary Weinstein is the Director of Content at CPC Strategy, and an expert in Retail Search, Google Shopping and Digital Marketing. A NY native, Mary spends her time educating online merchants, hiking and drinking copious amounts of coffee. You can also find her work on SEW, SEMRush, MOZ and Practical Ecommerce. See all posts by this author here.