The Association of Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) has issued its first proposal for a data feeds standards. The standard is aimed squarely at Comparison Shopping Engines, like shopping.com, kelkoo.com and enclick.com. The goal of the standard is to allow ecommerce merchants to generate a single data feed valid for all affiliate networks and shopping sites, instead of the dozen odd data feeds which are necessary at present.
Jay Heavilon of MARS, who chairs the committee for the standard states
"The current situation is a digital tower-of-Babel, where different online shopping search and shopping engines take SKU [Stock Keeping Unit] data in different formats. These specs allow advertisers, engines, and agencies to exchange product data more efficiently,”
[National Retail Federation Press Release]
Google, w3c.org (world wide web consortium) and ARTs have competing standards for ecommece data feeds. Google has published the GData API which is a simple focused standard, concentrating exclusively on getting merchant's products into Google Base. With Google Checkout interface adding the transaction backend interface.
The ARTS standards is a more comprehensive definition of vocabulary which ties into ART's other standards for the communication along entire retail value chain. The W3C's RDF schema is also comprehensive, but the retail category XML schema is still not complete.
There Can be Only One
The three data feed standards clearly overlap in scope. Which one attains critical mass first is still very much an open question. Each standard has pros and cons.
ARTS has buy-in from Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft, and other major players in the online retail sector.
Google Data is now the way for merchants to get their products into Google Search Results. Since Google dominates the retail clickthrough market, its search is typically the origin of 25% of all ecommerce related clickthrough. If Google keeps this lock on retail related traffic, Google Data will be an obligatory data feed for all online shops.
The W3C's XML standards have the advantage of having public domain licences. W3C waives the right to demand fees for the use of its schemas. Contrary to ARTS and Google, who reserve all rights on the use of their standard; either organization has a right to demand fees and royalties on the use of their standard in the future. All W3C's standards use forms of creative commons licences, and are therefore truely for the benefit of the retail community.
Public Licence Standards
The public licence issue over the standard is central here. Viral marketing tenets for mass adoption recommend zero fees and minimum friction on use of the schemas. But Already Google has attracted strong criticism from internet leaders over their commercial lock-in tactics of the Google Data standard. Similarly, ARTS already levies fees for use of some of their standard; a disaster in viral marketing terms.
Meanwhile retail merchants observe in hope, as they are forced to produce half a dozen data feeds for submitting their product list to price comparison engines.