Google recently announced that their Google Shopping feeds will no longer offer up product details in search results for free. The original program, started about 5 years ago, let manufacturers, retailers, and distributors load specific product information into Google's search system. Product detail results would show up within the main search itself or within the specialty shopping tab http://www.google.com/shopping.
The original system (called Froogle) started off gathering information by crawling existing ecommerce sites, but Google eventually decided that allowing vendors to upload their own data would make it easier for everyone. Microsoft soon followed with their own version for MSN/Bing.
Neither service charged for product listings, allowing them to crush pay-per-click price comparison sites like shopzilla, pricegrabber, nextag, bizrate, etc. But now Google has decided to switch to the very same pay-per-click model it was competing against only a short while ago.
Anti-monopoly forces will likely cry foul; the #1 search vendor introduces a 'free' product listing service that directly competes with paid price engines, builds up market share and acceptance, then adopts its competition's pricing model four years later?
They may be able to prove their point. Yeoman did an analysis of the traffic of five of the top price engine sites and saw a marked decrease in activity from 2009-2011. What is interesting is that these sites' traffic seems to be ticking up given the recent changes (Source Compete Data 2009-2011). What's even more interesting is that many of these sites modified their models and began using Google's shopping API to pull in relevant data.
How does this impact you?
For a manufacturer there are several items that should be addressed:
- Review the current role of Google Shopping in your Data Quality, Merchandising, and Demand Generation programs. Make no mistake, every organization should be actively managing their product feeds. Google remains the #1 site in the world in terms of visitors and holds 70+% of the market share for search. Even if your products are sold 100% by a downstream distribution system, this is where many customer get a 'first look' at your products.
- If you are already managing the feeds - continue the process and review whether or not the marketing units want to add a paid campaign to integrate your sites. If you are the original manufacturer of any item, we highly recommend creating a budget for this. Not only will it pick up product queries your downstream channel misses, it will give you the ability to directly control the quality of your products on the general web (both Google and Microsoft consolidate data via UPC or manufacturer part number and do enforce copyright rules when pushed).
- If you do not already have feeds - Audit which of your partners do have feeds and make sure your preferred partners are aware of the change.
- Revisit independent price engines - These sites will likely see some level of resurgence in traffic if retailers start to test out different pricing options. The good news is that the major players will likely have to be below Google pricing, giving existing users a break. Major players include: Shopzilla, Nextag, Pronto, PriceGrabber, TheFind, PriceRunner (UK), Smarter, and Bizrate.
The challenge for all will be to make sure this change is addressed at multiple levels including your overall marketing/branding strategy, online data quality programs and your online sales and distribution model.
How can we help?
Yeoman has a passion for online sales and distribution and optimizing the components that make a manufacturer successful. Each organization has a unique marketing and sales strategy, but there are core components that everyone needs in order to be successful. We live those components, whether it's price engine analysis, data quality programs, or outsourced web operations. Give us a call or chat now to learn more.
Official Google post:
Background anti-trust stories / complaints:
European Investigation (2012): http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/jun/01/google-european-commission-search-results