Thursday, June 4, 2009

More Bing for Your Bucks: Microsoft May Be Mulling a Farecast for Retail

I'm attending the invitation-only Microsoft Search Summit in Bellevue, Wash., today, and got an inside look at some of the thinking behind the launch of its new Bing search engine.

One headline that I took away from the conference is that Microsoft may be mulling leveraging Farecast's data-mining and predictive-pricing technology for use across major retail categories in Bing.

Another newsy tidbit I discovered is that Microsoft's reported $80-$100 million Bing branding campaign may just be the beginning since there are plans on the drawing board to pour "six to seven times that amount" into Bing advertising over the next three or four years, a Microsoft employee told me.

Regarding a potential initiative on retail-pricing predictions, a couple of Bing officials hinted that something like this might be on the agenda, although I didn't get the feeling that consumers would be able to use Bing to delve into the pricing fluctuations of a Nikon D90 digital camera any time soon.

As I wrote a few days ago about the new Farecast-MSN Travel consolidation into Bing Travel, Farecast, acquired by Microsoft a little more than a year ago, brings tremendous value to the travel-search experience.

For example, Farecast studies historical airfare trends and informs me to "wait" and not buy a $350 LAX-ORD flight on American Airlines because the fare likely will drop.

Farecast has been doing this sort of predicting for several years in the travel sector and has the wherewithal to lead efforts for Bing to get involved in predicting retail pricing across the Bing Shopping vertical.

So imagine if Bing Shopping, which offers consumers a Cashback program, can also implement pricing predictions on major retail items?

That could be a winning combination in terms of providing value to consumers.

Bing Travel General Manager Hugh Crean says a key issue in mining retail categories for pricing trends is whether there are "signaling" data to study.

Another issue, of course, is that many retail items have a short shelf-life so these types of products might be unsuitable targets for examining their pricing trends.

On other issues, there was an under-current of some controversy at the conference concerning the way Bing takes steps at times to keep users glued to instead of facilitating their navigation to third-party websites.

David Berkowitz summed up the issue in Advertising Age with his post, "Microsoft's Bing Is a Search Portal, not a Decision Engine."

For example, after conducting a Bing search for a Nikon D90 digital camera, the top result comes in the form of a Bing instant answer, or summary, and when you click on that result, you remain on

Some conference attendees muttered that Microsoft is exercising too much control over the user in stealing traffic from third-party sites without compensating them for their content.

Members of the Bing team, and some conference attendees, countered that third-party sites would probably welcome the Bing exposure, and that this free publicity would drive traffic to their sites nonetheless.

In the travel sector, some suppliers, including American Airlines, have pursued legal actions against companies that scrape their content without permission and sans a partner relationship.

So, maybe we will be hearing more on the "search-portal" front in the future.


David Berkowitz said...

It is a fascinating area to watch, especially with how Bing Travel is evolving. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

Edd said...

I can only imagine how much free publicity RyanAir will get when they start attaching Microsoft for screen-scraping their website as and when Bing Travel introduces more European flight searches into their offering...