Google’s Retail Change, From Free To Paid, Is Rightfully Scaring A Lot Of Merchants

Written by Evan Schuman
June 7th, 2012

Given Google’s strong dominance in the search world, coupled with the huge amount of E-tail business that comes in via Web searches, it’s understandable that whenever Google tinkers with anything that might possibly or perhaps could impact that traffic, retailers get nervous.

Well, Google is preparing some major changes to a relatively small merchant area of its site. The fear is that, despite whatever assurances Google offers, the Domino Effect of this decision will impact Google’s main search listings. And where Google goes, Bing and Yahoo are sure to follow.

What Google has done is said that it is changing the name of Google Product Search (which used to be Froogle and a few other names) to Google Shopping. The name change make clear that this part of Google’s empire hasn’t exactly caught fire with consumers. But the real impact is changing it from a free model to a paid model.

“We are starting to transition Google Product Search in the U.S. to a purely commercial model built on Product Listing Ads. We believe that having a commercial relationship with merchants will encourage them to keep their product information fresh and up to date,” said Sameer Samat, Vice President of Product Management, Google Shopping. “Higher quality data—whether it’s accurate prices, the latest offers or product availability—should mean better shopping results for users, which in turn should create higher quality traffic for merchants.”

The big-picture question is whether this move will impact the main Google search results. If someone searches for refrigerator or lawn-mower or sofa, will the paid listings from Google Shopping (which have always been included in the main Google search) push down much larger retailers that didn’t happen to pay for a Google Shopping listing?

SearchEngineLand Editor-in-Chief Danny Sullivan made an excellent point when he dug into Google’s 2004 IPO and reminded us of what Google had to say about paid search, specifically involving merchant listings: “Because we do not charge merchants for inclusion in Froogle, our users can browse product categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we provide are relevant and unbiased.”

Fully agree, Mr. Google From 2004.

Michael Saracino, Eddie Bauer’s Digital Marketing Director, said his people have yet to start serious discussions with Google, so it’s hard to know where the chain will end up. “We’ll have to evaluate our approach to how we continue to use that program and what the level of optimization should be, on a paid basis. It has to be evaluated against other paid programs now,” he said. “Google product search shows up in both places, and it’s more important to be in the main search. We’re going to want to show up for those results. For us, it may be that if the ROI is there, it may be necessary to continue to run. Or it may be something that we don’t want to do.”

Predicting what Google will ultimately do is almost impossible.


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