Recently I've been investigating the enforcement of Google Product Search's data feed requirements and the impact of that enforcement or lack thereof on online retailers. The findings have been pretty shocking.
Rule-abiding online retailers on Google Product Search have actually lost out on thousands of dollars in orders because they went ahead and became compliant with Google's tax and shipping requirements.
You may recall my reminder on Search Engine Watch earlier in September about Google's requirements that went into effect on the 22nd. In the reminder article I mentioned the fact that it was unclear whether Google's tax and shipping requirements were being enforced. At that moment they were not, and today, more than a month after the tax and shipping requirements went into effect, they still aren't being enforced by Google Product Search.
We found a huge number of merchants submitting inaccurate shipping information to Google Product Search in an attempt to present a lower base price to online shoppers. Merchants aren't including tax and shipping information, or are listing "free shipping" when there really are shipping charges.
What's worse is that merchants who aren't abiding by Google's tax and shipping requirements are reaping traffic and sales benefits from Google Product Search.
For about a week in August I accidentally sent inaccurate shipping information in a client's Google Product Search data feed, listing all products as free shipping. During this time traffic increased by 285.51 percent, transactions increased by 316.13 percent, revenue increased by 230.37 percent and conversion rates even increased from 8.81 percent to 9.51 percent compared to the same period of time when shipping information was included.
Yes, conversion rates increased when we listed free shipping for all products, even when we didn't have free shipping.
Call me stupid for not implementing the strategy long term. Fair enough. I've just seen way to many merchants contact me yelling "FIRE! FIRE!" because Google decided an account wasn't following their rules and suspended it indefinitely.
That was a risk I wasn't willing to take, but with the way the requirements are being enforced I may have to reconsider.
Merchants that provide false shipping data or do not provide any data at all are reaping the benefits, while those that are playing by the rules that Google created are losing.
It just doesn't make sense. It's a problem, a big one, that needs to be addressed.
Google Trusted Stores
To participate in Google's new program, merchants have to share shipping data with Google, most of which seems to be related to timing – how quickly you ship and if it gets to the customer on time.
But with Google's lack of enforcement, merchants don't have to share how much their shipping costs on Google Product Search. Or worse, they lie about their shipping costs and mark them as free.
The conflict of interest between the Trusted Stores program and Google's inaccurate display of shipping information on Google Product Search doesn't make sense. And more importantly, the inaccurate shipping data doesn't build trust between Google Product Search and online shoppers.
Continuing to let merchants lie about shipping costs creates three problems that only get worse over time:
- Shoppers get a bad shopping experience. Though traffic, sales, revenue, and conversions went up, it's still safe to say that there's a portion of those customer that were displeased to find a shipping charge when going to checkout.
- Merchant traffic decreases as a whole. Shoppers who find that Google Product Search consistently sources inaccurate product information will find more accurate sources to shop from.
- Merchants that abide by Google's requirements lose out on traffic, revenue, transactions, and even higher conversion rates.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Merchants and the people that represent them have a voice that should to be heard.