When Microsoft (MSFT) launched Bing, a big part of the company's rationale was that the new search engine would make common online tasks much easier and enjoyable. As far as shopping is concerned, it appears that Redmond is doing a solid job in one of those key categories. According to research released today by Web traffic measurement company HitWise, traffic to the Bing.com/shopping has grown by an impressive 169% between the May 6 launch and August 8.

What's more interesting is that most of those gains appear to have come at the expense of Redmond's new partner, Yahoo Shopping, the comparison shopping category leader. One has to wonder if this is the sort of synergy that Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz anticipated when she signed a deal with Microsoft to cede her company's search fate to Steve Ballmer and pals.
Bing's move up was huge. During the period in question, its shopping market share increased from 4.4% to 10.9%, according to Hitwise and its market rank jumped from 8th to 4th. In that same period, traffic by Yahoo Shopping fell from 24.1% to 22.7%.

What's interesting is where Bing Shopping got its new visitors. According to Hitwise, roughly 30% of the traffic to the site came from Bing and MSN during the week of 8/8/09. And 66.8% of the visitors referred to Bing Shopping from the core search property Bing.com were new to the website or had not visited in the past 30 days. It seems likely that much of that traffic was poached from Yahoo Shopping.

While it's very hard to tell whether Bing's search engine algorithms favor Bing Shopping lists, it seems logical that that would be the case. After all, one would assume that Bing Shopping is optimized for Bing search.

Whatever the exact underlying causes, this finding from Hitwise appears to answer a question that many critics of the Yahoo/Microsoft search deal had raised -- namely, will Bing become not only a partner to Yahoo but also a big competitor, stealing users from the very categories where Yahoo is strongest and most profitable?

Unlike the core search engine category, comparative shopping remains a highly splintered segment. Google's (GOOG) entry, Froogle, has been neglected and never gained much traction. Currently, Yahoo Shopping leads the category handily as the only site to garner a greater than 20% market share. However, a slew of other properties with strong brand names -- such as NexTag, BizRate, and Shopzilla (not to mention AOL Shopping) -- are waiting in the wings.

If Bing's market gains continue, the Redmond property will pass Yahoo Shopping within six months. Of course, Microsoft's massive Bing ad blitz is now over and spending on online ads for Bing are back to a more sustainable level, which means that growth of Bing may slow. That said, the damage already appears to be done to Yahoo Shopping.

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