Microsoft Dangles Rebates for Web Shoppers

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Attention shoppers: There may be bargains available at Microsoft's search engine.

In an attempt to undercut Google's standing as the most popular guide to the Web, Microsoft announced yesterday that it was offering cash incentives for people who use the company's often-overlooked search engine.

Live Search Cashback offers discounts to consumers who do their Internet shopping using the Microsoft engine. Typing "video cameras" into Live Search and then selecting a model, for example, a user can see merchants offering discounts from 2 to 9 percent.

In a speech announcing the rebates, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates predicted that the program would attract more consumers to Microsoft's search engine and potentially change the economics of Internet search.

"I think years from now you may look back and say, "Wow, search started to get a fair bit more competitive,' " he said.

Microsoft is engaged in an epic struggle to catch up to Google, a relative upstart that has gained a preeminent role in Internet services.

The source of Google's fortune is its search engine, which earns money by placing ads around the search results. Of the $20 billion spent on Internet advertising last year, about 40 percent was spent on advertisements accompanying search results. Google has garnered the lion's share of that money, and its mastery of the field has powered its rapid ascent. As a result, Google essentially operates as an Internet guide for most users.

Microsoft's competing search engine, known as Live Search, lags far behind the market shares of Google and even Yahoo.

The rebate plan is a reflection of the company's desire to reinvigorate it, but analysts were split on whether the program could provide Live Search with a significant boost.

"It's definitely unique at the moment, and it will definitely cause people to take another look at Microsoft," said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of, an industry publication. "But I don't think there's any guarantee that this is a game changer."

He added that the process to enroll for rebates was "awkward and confusing."

The software maker has offered similar incentives for people to use its search engine but not on the scale revealed yesterday. For example, Microsoft offered large companies software and services credits for every employee who used Live Search in the workplace.

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