Will free listings elevate Google Shopping?

Source: Google; Photo: @bongkarngraphic via Twenty20
May 05, 2020
Tom Ryan

In another rollout accelerated by the pandemic, Google is now allowing merchants to list their products on Google Shopping for free.

Previously, Google was paid every time a buyer clicked through to a merchant’s website. Now, anyone who operates a website or manages a store on a marketplace platform can list without paying. Similar to Amazon.com, merchants can still pay for better placement as promoted listings.

The move could significantly increase the amount of merchandise available on the Google Shopping platform versus the pay-to-play model to the benefit of consumers and merchants able to tap free listings.

“For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs,” said Bill Ready, head of Google Commerce, in a blog entry. “For shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings.”

SearchEngineLand believes Google made the decision partly because over the years the company has significantly improved its ability to ensure that product feeds match the data on the site, helping avoid out-of-stocks and misdirected links.

The change, however, is also seen as a response to Amazon’s dominance of product search. According to a survey from CivicScience that came out last October, 49 percent of Americans start their product searches at Amazon versus only 22 percent at Google.

At a time when out-of-stocks continue at retail and Amazon is grappling with delivery delays amid the pandemic, the free listings enable more retailers to tap Google’s scale. “With hundreds of millions of shopping searches on Google each day, we know that many retailers have the items people need in stock and ready to ship, but are less discoverable online,” said Mr. Ready.

Google also announced a new partnership with PayPal to allow merchants to link their accounts.

Last October, the Google Shopping platform underwent an upgrade that included enhanced personalization, price-tracking capabilities and filtered product searches to nearby stores.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will offering free listings help the Google Shopping platform better compete against Amazon? Is Amazon vulnerable to losing share in product search amid the pandemic?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Amazon is where consumers are now most likely to start commerce-related searches and Google needs to pull out all the stops to change that behavior. "
"Now is the time tor Google to open up and let it all in. I guess."
"The key driver lies in the reference to the CivicScience statistics around product search between Amazon and Google."

Join the Discussion!

15 Comments on "Will free listings elevate Google Shopping?"

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David Naumann

This is a smart move by Google. The key will be to promote it well to sellers and shoppers. It is a no-brainer for sellers to potentially drive more incremental revenue with a free listing on Google. The more difficult challenge is to change the habits of the 49 percent of consumers that start their product search on Amazon. It is difficult to change habits. Heavy promotion is needed.

Ryan Grogman

The key driver lies in the reference to the CivicScience statistics around product search between Amazon and Google. Google views this an opportunity to begin clawing back some of the product search market share, and the timing cannot make more sense given some of the recent flaws exposed at Amazon during the pandemic. I expect that Google indeed will pick back up some market share by the boost in listings, and they’ll likewise see an uptick in ad spending as more eyes and clicks end up hitting their shopping links.

Steve Montgomery

Consumers’ awareness of Amazon is something that all e-retailers must contend with. An interesting piece of research would be what percentage of consumers were aware that Google Shopping existed. In addition to this effort to secure more retailers, Google will need to undertake an effort to greatly increase awareness of its shopping site.

Dave Bruno

I completely agree, Steve – Google has a huge awareness problem, and investment in that issue needs to come right alongside their investment in free listings. As David indicated, almost half of product searches start with Amazon. That is a huge hill to climb for Google…

Stephen Rector

It’s nice that Google is offering free listings, but if other people are paying for premium placement, I’m not sure how it will help brands not utilizing it. I would rather see Google offer premium placement for free to new brands to test in order for the brand to see the potential ROI.

Shep Hyken

This is a nice gesture and at the same time a great marketing plan. Let the retailers find out if the Google Shopping platform works for them.

As for Amazon being vulnerable to losing share in product search amid the pandemic — it doesn’t matter if it’s a pandemic or not. There is always going to be competition to consider in good times and bad – and regardless of it being Amazon or any other power-retailer.

Ken Cassar

This is a smart move from Google. Amazon is where consumers are now most likely to start commerce-related searches and Google needs to pull out all the stops to change that behavior. Increasing the supply of merchants and products is a critical step.

Ryan Mathews
Whether or not free listings will help Google or not depends on what timeframe you are looking at. The more immediate the timeframe, the lower the benefit but, that said, there’s no guarantee there will be long-term benefits either. Shopping is a function of habit, and that’s why Amazon has invested so much in surrounding the consumer with options that feed their Amazon habit. Some panelists have pointed out that the COVID-19 crisis has hurt Amazon’s image, creating a potential opening for Google but – respectfully – I think that’s missing the point. Amazon is failing because of its success, i.e., fulfillment and distribution aren’t keeping pace with demand and shopper urgency. If a significant portion of that business were to somehow magically transfer to Google tomorrow, Amazon would be in better shape and Google would sink. There are only so many trucks, some much high demand product, and so many distribution center workers. Whoever gets the order inherits the pressures on their system. And one more note, since when is “Search” the ultimate barometer… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar

Smart move by Google to attract retailers, but what are they doing to attract shoppers? There are plenty of shopper surveys that tell us consumers go to Amazon before they go to Google for product searches. Google has to do something new to change the tides. This action will help in that more retailers are sure to list their merchandise via Google now and clearly you need enough of a perceived critical mass of products for shoppers to use any tool for product search. Shoppers today know they can get that at Amazon, but do they see Google the same way? No, not yet. I hope Google is planning something to promote its shopping platform to consumers if they want to see a change in search habits. Now is a great time to do so.

Doug Garnett

Google’s Shopping platform is woefully behind — so far behind that they are unlikely to overcome the “lock-in” which Amazon has achieved. This is far too little and far too late.

Also, from my own experience, Google’s shopping results are quite poor. I ignore whatever results come up as “shopping.” The breadth of stores and options is unusual and weak — not reflecting places I would want to purchase.

This would be a good place for Google to admit reality and find a better way forward.

Oliver Guy

Right now there are numerous retailers with closed stores who are seeking new channels to market. For these retailers this could be incredibly useful.

Could Amazon lose share of the search pie? Possibly but it is likely that the pie is getting bigger as consumers seek to fulfill more of their needs via non-physical channels.

Google has the benefit that it could well be an aggregator. Searching for something on Google can potentially find it anywhere (including Amazon), whereas searching only on Amazon may likely only yield Amazon or Amazon marketplace sellers.

Shikha Jain

The benefit to the seller is that free listings create somewhat of an even playing field and allow the smaller shops to stay afloat during this difficult time, even though those with deeper pockets will continue to purchase premium listings. The benefit to the buyer is the ability to compare prices for similar goods across ecommerce platforms. The two main challenges for Google are 1) generating awareness since product discovery still happens mostly on Amazon and 2) ongoing merchandising optimization so that the search and product display pages encourage a shift from searching on Amazon to searching on Google.

James Tenser

Google Shopping has potential to catch up quickly on product search. It can innovate on the payment front with PayPal. It so far has little to offer on the fulfillment and delivery front, however. It makes me wonder how soon we will see distribution facilities open with Google on the facade. For me, that would be evidence of a real commitment.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Searching is one issue and this move by Google may provide better search. However, search is only one aspect of shopping. Price, delivery, reliability, and support are also part of the shopping experience. Google will have to at least match Amazon on all criteria and excel at some of them.

Chuck Palmer

Now is the time tor Google to open up and let it all in. I guess. This would only work if they are also reaching consumers in a way that will enable a shift from the behavior that sees us go to Amazon first when we are ready to buy.

"Amazon is where consumers are now most likely to start commerce-related searches and Google needs to pull out all the stops to change that behavior. "
"Now is the time tor Google to open up and let it all in. I guess."
"The key driver lies in the reference to the CivicScience statistics around product search between Amazon and Google."

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