A few days after Google upended the ecommerce marketing world with the announcement of upcoming changes to what will now be called Google Shopping, many retailers and marketers we spoke with are positive about the switch, though there are definitely some serious concerns.
You’d think taking a product from free to paid would cause an outcry (and there is some of that) — but for many, instead, it’s an answer to long time concerns — concerns about control.
More Control = Happier Marketers
Cindy Starr, VP of external marketing at VistaPrint, a printing company with more than 65,000 products in its merchant feed, says the free Google Product search has been a fantastic source of business, and she believes Google Shopping could perform even better.
“It’s been quite successful for us,” she said. “It has one of our highest conversion rates. But, for our particular use, we’re excited about the changes. One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is get more volume and, with this, we can bid and get more volume. We’re excited about that possibility.”
Ryann Scrafford, marketing director of kids clothing retailer Axl’s Closet, agrees. “Outside of ensuring we had clean data, there weren’t any levers that we could pull to affect the channel’s performance,” he told us. “Replacing Google Product Search with PLA [Product Listing Ads] allows us the opportunity to compete against the large players in categories that we believe we provide a better assortment or experience in, and back off on the ones that we don’t through adjusting our bidding strategies.”
Hope For Better Reporting And Support For Decluttering
Besides increasing volume and tweaking settings, there’s also hope that reporting will improve now that Google is getting more money to support it.
“Frequently we see fluctuations in sales from week to week and are unable to determine what caused the increase or decrease which makes it impossible to optimize the channel,” said Scrafford.
Additionally, there’s marketer support for a de-cluttering of the search engine results pages for ecommerce-oriented queries, given how confusing it’s become in recent years.
“Google has done a lot to monetize the top portion of the search results for retail listings, that quite frankly the page has become littered with product listings, product extensions, shopping results, and a few regular organic listings, that it’s really hard for a retailer to stand out,” said Laura Thieme, CEO of Bizwatch Search Analytics.
Concern About Keywords
Still, even those, like Thieme, who were advocates of Google changing to a paid model are concerned about how the change might be implemented. Thieme says she recently learned the keywords a mid-market retailer client’s product listing ads (PLAs) were showing for. “We were absolutely shocked…[they were] not relevant, the costs were exorbitant, resulting in a horrible ROAS [return on advertising spend]. So, PLAs need to be improved, and, quite frankly, I’m glad they’re choosing to change the model, but not to paid inclusion,” she said.
Others are concerned that smaller retailers will suffer, given the money and time that will be required to manage product listing ads. Previously for companies with few changes in their products or pricing, Google Shopping could be nearly “set and forget” — but no more.
“Companies that relied on Google Shopping for a significant portion of their online revenue stream now face a daunting challenge of re-assessing their entire marketing mix, and seeing how reduced margins from sales in Google Shopping fit in,” said Brian Lewis, VP at Engine Ready.
What Does This Mean For 2012 Holiday Shopping?
Even more distressing is the timing of the change. Google hasn’t given a firm timeline, and, if you’re an online retailer, the all-important holiday season is right around the corner.
“The impact this could have on retail budgets for 2012 holiday season could be significant. Merchants need time to update their platform and coding requirements, and as a result, pricing and new requirements launched after September first, may not give retailers adequate time to respond to the changes in time for holiday shoppers,” said Thieme. “They should have this in place by July first, no later, to give retailers enough time to budget and programmatically update their feed requirements.”