It was hard to escape the news of Microsoft's Live Search Cashback program yesterday. I gave it some time to soak in, read through the flurry of opinion in the blogosphere - some good, but mostly bad. I even spent quite a bit of time with it this morning, making a purchase through one of their merchant partners.
One thing really stuck out to me as I read through the AP report, and that's this quote by Bill Gates:
"It's exciting. I think years from now you may look back and say, 'Wow, search started to get a fair bit more competitive,' and you can look back to that announcement,"
I'll let that just linger in the air for a minute before I continue....
OK...here's the deal, folks: Microsoft is apparently living in an alternate universe, where they understand consumer behavior on the Internet, and create innovative products to meet their demands.
In the real world, they are chasing their tale. Here's why Cashback probably won't amount to anything of consequence:
Where's the Innovation?: The MS Cashback site is really nothing more than a glorified affiliate program, where they pass their commission through to the consumer. Fatwallet has been doing this for quite some time. Upromise lets you take your cash reward and help fund your kid's college fund. iGive uses the same model, except they take the commission and donate it to any number of charitable causes. (I probably don't need to tell you how much more responsible the latter two examples are, as opposed to having a couple of bucks hit your PayPal account.)
It Will Change the Landscape of....: Comparison shopping on the Internet. Not search, and certainly not how marketers pay for search. I honestly can't see Google shaking in their shoes over this. Now, PriceGrabber, Shopping.com or NexTag? They should be very afraid.
Consumer Behavior Will Prevail: Think about how you use search. Do you compartmentalize searching for something that you want to buy online differently than you do for other types of content? I'm guessing not....sure, you may end up at a product comparison site like the ones listed above, but there are good odds that you got there from a search engine link in the first place. How long until we see Google AdWords for Cashback links just like you do with every other shopping comparison site?
I have to make a slight disclaimer here: I work for a company that sells eCommerce software that competes (sort of) with Microsoft. I'm not Microsoft-bashing here for any other reason than I think they simply don't understand how they fit in the Internet space. I honestly can't think of a single instance in which they have truly innovated in years, and I wouldn't count Internet Explorer because we all know how it got it's initial market share. I will agree with most of what has been written so far, in that this smells really desperate.