It’s no secret that today’s consumers prefer shopping online to shopping in physical stores. It’s more convenient and more immediate than browsing from store to store on foot. Google Shopping attempts to harness this cultural shift by combining Internet users’ love of online shopping with Google’s omniscience. But is it as beneficial as it seems? This week, “Prospect Genius Reviews…” will find out.
Google Shopping was formerly named “Froogle” and, later, “Google Product Search.” When it launched in December 2002, it was a service that indexed product information from seller websites. Consumers often used it for price comparisons and product research, as Google’s web crawler found data from all available sellers.
However, as of 2012, Google Shopping now uses a “pay-to-play” model, in which sellers must pay to be listed in the results. This model resembles AdWords, in that it ranks results based on their bid amount and relevance.
This model has spurred quite a bit of controversy in the search engine community. Microsoft, in its anti-Google campaign called “Scroogled,” says this: “Simply put, all of their shopping results are now paid ads.” The site’s statement goes on: “We say that when you limit choices and rank them by payment, consumers get Scroogled.”
Admittedly, Microsoft is using this as an opportunity to take on its monolithic competitor and convert new customers, so these sentiments should be taken with a grain of salt. (Microsoft even concludes its statement against Google Shopping with a pitch for its own search engine: “For an honest search result, try Bing.”) But the fact remains: Higher bids lead to higher rankings. And disregarding Microsoft’s ulterior motives, Google Shopping doesn’t seem like a very fair service.
Prospect Genius reviews Google Shopping from the perspective of a company that advocates for small, local businesses. Advertising budgets for these businesses are much smaller than budgets for large chain stores. Quite obviously, this means that most small businesses don’t have the resources to compete in a bidding war with national chains.
To illustrate this point, we did a quick search on Google Shopping for Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 100+ (3.0 fluid ounces). The top five web results belonged to Drugstore.com, Walgreens.com, ULTA Beauty, and Walmart. What does that tell you? When it comes to Google Shopping, the game is fixed.
However, “Prospect Genius Reviews…” would be remiss if we didn’t mention Google Shopping Express, the silver lining of Google Shopping’s seemingly dark cloud. Powered by a fleet of white Toyota Priuses, it’s a new service that offers same-day delivery of items purchased through Google Shopping. Right now, it’s only available in San Francisco, San Jose, West Los Angeles, and Manhattan, but early reviews are positive.
The service involves couriers picking up purchased items from nearby brick-and-mortar stores and delivering them to local homes and businesses within just a few hours. Although these stores are primarily national and regional chains with big advertising budgets, Larry Magid notes that the express courier service supports the local economy better than other online delivery services (like Amazon.com). In his recent Forbes.com article, Magid writes,
“True, most of the ones in my area are national chain stores like Target, Walmart, Costco, Office Depot, Guitar Center and Frys but at least they hire local workers, pay rent to local landlords and their employees pay California income tax and local property taxes (either directly or through their rent) and spend money in this area.”
On the other hand, when Magid places an order on Amazon.com, “most of that money leaves my local area.” It’s hard to argue with him on this point.
So, while Google Shopping may negatively affect small businesses by favoring large chain stores with higher bidding powers and stronger web presences, Google Shopping Express is its saving grace. But given the limited availability of Google Shopping Express, we at Prospect Genius remain underwhelmed.
Next time, “Prospect Genius Reviews…” will cover Facebook ads.