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Google giving retailers free product listings on its Google Shopping service

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Google has brought forward its plans to make it free for merchants to sell on Google Shopping as it looks to help retailers in the lockdown.

With physical stores shuttered, digital commerce has become a lifeline for retailers and as consumers increasingly shop online, they’re searching not just for essentials but also things like toys, apparel, and home goods. While this presents an opportunity for struggling businesses to reconnect with consumers, many cannot afford to do so at scale.

“In light of these challenges, we’re advancing our plans to make it free for merchants to sell on Google,” says Bill Ready, President, Commerce at Google. “Beginning next week, search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free listings, helping merchants better connect with consumers, regardless of whether they advertise on Google. 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.”

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.

“If you’re an existing user of Merchant Centre and Shopping ads, you don’t have to do anything to take advantage of the free listings, and for new users of Merchant Centre, we’ll continue working to streamline the onboarding process over the coming weeks and months,” explains Ready. “These changes will take effect in the US before the end of April and we aim to expand this globally before the end of the year.”

But some in the industry question whether it is more to do with Google Shopping still not being able to compete with Amazon and eBay – not least as more shoppers head for marketplaces and online shopping during the corona pandemic.

“I believe this announcement means Google has realised that it’s losing out in the race to become the top destination for product search – where consumers go to research products and make online purchases,” says Malte Landwehr, VP Product at Searchmetrics. “And while it’s positioning the news that it’s making its Google Shopping product listings free in order to help smaller retailers caught up in the COVID-19 crisis, Google must also have one eye on the likely ecommerce boom that’s going to happen as ‘locked down’ consumers are forced to make purchases online rather than going to physical stores.”

He continues: “In the end, Google Shopping has become a pretty light-weight product search engine and ecommerce marketplace. Right now, Amazon and eBay are the dominant players in this space. In fact, it’s unclear if Google Shopping is even number three in the United States, where it’s also competing with the likes of Walmart and niche marketplaces such as Etsy for product search traffic.”

He adds: “In most of its other key markets such as general web search, video search, maps and local search, Google is still number one. And that’s a nice position to be in before starting to monetise a service. With Google Shopping I think it’s introducing free product listings to try and retain and increase its market share. Many other services from Google are free -it’s something the company often does to capture market share.”

Landwehr concludes: “I also believe that the current positive run that Amazon has in the stock markets is an important factor. It seems, analysts and investors find KPIs like “number of sellers” or “number of SKUs” in a marketplace much easier to understand than the obscure patents that Google has in areas such as Natural Language Processing or similar.”

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