On April 21st, Google’s president of Commerce, Bill Ready, announced in a blog post that Google will be advancing their plans to make the service free for merchants to sell products via the free Google shopping integration. Where previously, Google Shopping merchants have had to pay to have their products listed in the Google Shopping tab, the beginning of next week will see the search results consisting primarily of free listings.
COVID-19 Sparks Free Google Shopping Listings
The announcement came as millions of people continue to hunker down at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period, many brick and mortar retailers have had to close their doors. An e-commerce strategy has suddenly become an enormous and urgent priority for online and offline merchants. sit
Citing the coronavirus pandemic as a catalyst for Google to speed up a pre-existing plan to switch to free listings, the search engine giant is looking for ways to support struggling retailers through the crisis.
“For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs. 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.” – Bill Ready, Google
What Is Google Shopping?
In case you’re not up to speed, Google Shopping is a service that allows consumers to search for, compare, and seek physical products across different retailers online. As a consumer, when you use Google Shopping, you’re browsing products from advertisers and merchants who have specifically chosen to feature their products on the Google service.
Powered by two platforms – Google Ads and Google Merchant Centre, Google Shopping has actually been around for nearly two decades. In that time, it’s grown to become an alternative to standard e-commerce giants like Amazon.
However, back in 2012, Free Google Shopping ads disappeared when merchants were required to pay the company to list products as a form of advertising. At the time of writing, listings are all sponsored, meaning merchants pay Google every time someone clicks through to their website from a Google product listing. For several years, this has led to fewer companies opting to use the platform and instead simply running an Ads campaign or working with other third-party marketplaces.
After eight years, Google is bringing back free listings into its Shopping results. Getting back to their roots, this new shift to bring free product listings will be permanent and is expected to roll out by the end of the month in the US, and globally soon after.
Fierce Competition in E-Commerce Sparks Free Google Shopping
Part of a broader push to expand in e-commerce, the enormous shift will also mount a bigger challenge to Amazon as more consumers are driven online during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Google has made it clear they aim to help cash-strapped retailers during this economic crisis, there’s no doubt this move will also prove to strategically expand its role in this unprecedented e-commerce boom.
Google has long wavered on its approach to optimising for commerce. The search engine giant makes the most money from its advertising mediums and has refined the design that makes money every time consumers search for things to buy online. Subsequently, in recent years, merchants have turned to the alternative free platforms of Amazon to sell and seek products, and the online retailer has taken advantage of this traffic.
Google has sat back and watched as Amazon has continued to gain share in product search and advertising. Putting a price on becoming a Google merchant, those who are not willing to pay have previously moved over to Amazon – placing the search engine giant at a disadvantage. Opening up to all merchants will enhance Google’s appeal to both sellers and consumers. It seems that Google is attempting to reaffirm its position as the go-to spot for users to seek and sell products online.
Google Partnering with PayPal
As part of its efforts, Google is partnering with PayPal. To help bring more merchants onto the platform in quick succession, Google are allowing them to link their existing accounts for accepting online payments. Joining existing Google partners, including Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce, this new partnership with PayPal is set to speed up the onboarding process enormously.
What The Free Google Shopping Initiative Really Means
By making it free for merchants to list products on Google shopping, retailers, shoppers, and advertises will experience benefits from the changes on the platform. Retailers will benefit from free exposure to the millions of users who search for products every day on Google. Shoppers will be able to discover more products from more retailers, including smaller businesses that they wouldn’t have otherwise come across. And advertisers will benefit from paid campaigns being augmented with free listings.
Existing users of Google Merchant Centre and Shopping Ads will not have to do anything to benefit from Google’s change to free listings.
For new retailers, a Merchant Centre account will need to be created to publish free listings. All Google Shopping listings rely on product feeds uploaded to Merchant Centre; therefore, a merchant cannot publish any products without setting up an account. While the features are not rolling out until next week, it is well-advised for retailers to create Merchant Centre accounts as soon as possible to begin the onboarding process.
Google will still be accepting paid listings, which will take precedence at the top of Google’s Shopping tab and within the product listing ad carousel in Google Search.
At a time where the world has been forced to shut down and brick and mortar locations and move online, Google Shopping has stepped up to the plate to help retailers become more accessible, and provide consumers with more products.
Bill Ready notes that the big change for free Google Shopping advertisements won’t fix any product shortages for large retailers. But it could mean that smaller businesses with inventory that wasn’t previously visible could soon show up in search results – somewhat of a lifeline for smaller businesses to stay afloat during the pandemic.
“Solutions during this crisis will not be fast or easy, but we hope to provide a measure of relief for businesses and lay the groundwork for a healthier retail ecosystem in the future.”