In Google’s 2021 SearchOn virtual conference, the search engine giant announced several memorable updates. These include its use of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the search experience and its continued emphasis on experience, expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T). However, several updates unrelated to AI and E-E-A-T caused quite a stir, especially among eCommerce industry professionals and digital marketers.
These announcements centered on the future of Google Shopping, Google’s comparison shopping engine.
In this article, we look back at the Google Shopping marketplace updates from that conference and assess their impact on Google’s eCommerce success in 2023, specifically:
• The Google Shopping Landscape in 2021
• Google Shopping in 2023: Impact on Consumers and eCommerce Businesses
• Future-Proof eCommerce Services to Grow Your Business
The Google Shopping Landscape in 2021
Before SearchOn, Google had already delivered some exciting eCommerce news: A Google Shopify partnership. At the time, Shopify was having a bit of a moment—by year-end, merchants had sold $175.5 billion via the platform, a 47% increase from the year before.
The Google Shopify partnership meant that Shopify merchants could integrate the products directly from their stores with Google Merchant Center.
Google also announced that listing on Google Shopping was now free of charge for the first time. Sellers could list products without paying a commission, making Google more accessible to eCommerce businesses compared to other marketplaces that charged fees and subscriptions.
During SearchOn, Google’s President of Commerce, Payments & NBU Bill Ready announced other ways Google planned to enhance the shopping experience for consumers as well as support the sales and digital marketing efforts of eCommerce businesses:
• Google Lens for Shopping: This was an added feature in the Google App that let users look for products using their phone cameras or search for them via screenshots or images. It was also added to Chrome on Desktop.
• Google Shopping Graph: This is a real-time dataset of merchants, products and inventory consisting of billions of listings that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Google Shopping Graph powers Google Lens, Google Assistant and other Google products.
• Other Google Merchant Center Integrations: These included options for GoDaddy, Woocommerce and Square.
Business Identifiers: Brands can now add attributes, such as “veteran-owned” and “woman-owned,” to help differentiate their businesses on Search, Maps and the Shopping tab.
• Business Identifiers: Brands can now add attributes, such as “veteran-owned” and “woman-owned,” to help differentiate their businesses on Search, Maps and the Shopping tab.
Why Did Google Suddenly Increase Focus on Google Shopping?
Beyond the obvious–to attract advertisers and grow revenue–there are several likely reasons why Google decided to focus on Google Shopping, Google Shopping Graph and other features meant to make Google a top destination for online shoppers and merchants. Here are some of them:
Google Shopping vs Amazon Online Shopping
Google’s announcement of its partnership with Shopify came on the heels of Amazon’s own updates about its increased investment in its “Other” category. Note that while Amazon does not disclose advertising sales, the “Other” unit handles advertising as well as sales relevant to other service offerings. In 2021, Amazon reported revenue growth of 77% year over year or $6.9 billion from this unit.
Google’s core business is advertising, making up about 80.2% of its total revenue in 2021. Amazon’s increased focus on its advertising arm has added a new dimension to the Google Shopping vs. Amazon battle. Research from 2021 showed that over 70% of consumers began their product searches directly on Amazon, bypassing Google and other search engines. This meant that Google was losing a substantial portion of advertising revenue to Amazon.
What’s more, Google has historically struggled with getting shoppers to use it as more than a research tool. Typically, shoppers would get the info they need from Google and then head to Amazon online shopping or other platforms to buy the products they’ve looked up.
To combat these challenges, Google began investing more in its Shopping features.
Shopping on Google offers a similar experience to Amazon online shopping. However, Google Shopping also integrates with Google’s other products, like Search and Maps, allowing shoppers to go directly from these products to checkout. Theoretically, this made it a more convenient option for consumers and gave the search engine a slight competitive edge in the Google Shopping vs Amazon turf war.
Finally, when the pandemic created a seismic shift in consumer behavior, resulting in a pivot to online, Google took it as an opportunity to increase its focus on eCommerce in general and Google Shopping in particular. This move would theoretically help strengthen its positioning in the Google Shopping vs Amazon battle.
The Growth of Mobile Shopping
The COVID-19 pandemic also saw a massive increase in mobile shopping, primarily through apps. In fact, the average time spent on shopping apps worldwide saw a 49% year-over-year increase in Q1 2021 (Mobile Shopping Apps Report, Data.AI). Users began to depend on mobile apps for day-to-day purchases, not just one-off buys.
Google had discontinued the Google Shopping app earlier that year, in May. The Google Shopping app was originally launched in 2014, but it sadly did not become as popular as Google hoped.
For one, the Google Shopping app wasn’t user-friendly, and it didn’t integrate well with many other Google products. Google instead shifted its focus to its web browser shopping experience, transferring all the functionality of the app to the Shopping tab. However, Google still wanted to compete against shopping apps, hence the availability of the Shopping functionality via mobile browsers and the main Google app.
Google Shopping in 2023: Impact on Consumers and eCommerce Businesses
Two years after the updates related to shopping on Google were announced on Search On, has Google succeeded in strengthening its position in the online shopping space? Let’s take a deeper look.
Google Shopify Partnership: A Match Made in eCommerce Heaven?
For one, the Google Shopify Integration promised unheard-of visibility for Shopify merchants’ products, as Google Shopping has an extensive reach that even Amazon couldn’t match. This vision has been realized, as selling on Google Shopping means access to potential customers in 35 countries. Meanwhile, Amazon lets sellers advertise to users in only up to 10 countries.
Despite Google being blocked in China, restricting access to a potentially lucrative market, Google Shopping’s reach still presents an excellent opportunity for merchants who sell internationally. Also, Shopify merchants could still use the integration at no cost.
User-friendliness is an added advantage that has made Google Shopping and Google Merchant Center even more accessible to sellers. Shopify merchants can follow a simple process to learn how to sell on Google Shopping. Existing sellers need only to download the Google & YouTube app to sync their products to Google Merchant Center, list their products for free on Search and YouTube as well as enable “Buy on Google.”
Google Shopping SEO is relatively simple as well, and being a Google Shopping expert is not required to effectively optimize listings. Generally, product listings appear higher on search results if they contain relevant keywords, provide accurate information and use high-quality images.
Google Shopping categories span 20,000 different product types. Those just learning how to sell on Google Shopping must choose the relevant Google Shopping categories to improve their products’ discoverability. Google has also designed its Google Product Categories (GPC) system so that items in the correct Google Shopping categories are more likely to appear in relevant searches. Merchants can also integrate Google Analytics with Shopify for free.
From the many changes announced before and during Search On 2021, Google’s integration with Shopify stands out as being among the most effective at achieving its goals of attracting merchants to sell on Google shopping and appealing to advertisers, all while improving user experience.
The partnership resulted in plenty of excitement. Branding themselves as “Google Shopping agencies,” new marketing companies popped up, keen on helping eCommerce businesses leverage the integration. Articles on Google Shopping strategies began appearing on marketing blogs, with topics ranging from Google Shopping SEO best practices to Google Shopping management tips and tricks.
However, despite all the excitement, the partnership has yet to place the Google Shopping marketplace on the same level as Amazon in terms of eCommerce domination.
Google Shopping Features: How Have They Fared?
Since Search On 2021, Google has rolled out other features and enhanced existing ones to further improve the online shopping experience for consumers and make the Google Shopping marketplace more appealing to eCommerce businesses. These changes include:
• Improved product discovery: Google has made it easier for shoppers to discover products on Google Shopping by using various features, such as product recommendations, personalized shopping lists and the ability to shop by image via Google Lens.
• More engaging shopping experiences: Google has incorporated functionalities such as 3D product views, augmented reality (AR) try-ons and the ability to shop live events to attract shoppers.
• Enhanced merchant tools: Apart from Shopify integration, Google has added more functionalities and tools to merchants via the Google Merchant Center to make it easier for sellers to learn how to sell on Google. Merchants can leverage Google Shopping strategies to attract more buyers, employ Google Shopping management on their listings and monitor their sales performance. All of these can be done via an intuitive platform without the need to be a Google Shopping expert.
Despite all these new functionalities, however, it still remains to be seen whether Google’s continued focus on Google Shopping will be successful in the long term, and whether it will eventually catch up to or even overtake Amazon in the eCommerce race.
Google’s eCommerce Success Is Mixed … At Least for Now
Google’s Shopify partnership has been successful, giving Shopify merchants access to a wider audience and empowering them to learn how to sell on Google Shopping effectively and making Google Shopping management easier. Additionally, Google’s other shopping features have made it easier for shoppers to discover and buy products on Google.
However, Amazon remains the undisputed eCommerce giant, with Google continuing to lag behind. Amazon retains the larger market share due to various factors, not least of which is its Prime Membership program that gives its customers access to free shipping and other benefits that make it a more attractive option to buyers.
Google’s eCommerce efforts—which they will likely continue—are good for the eCommerce space in general, giving both merchants and shoppers more choices as well as fostering innovation. And, if Google can continue to improve its shopping features and offer even more compelling value propositions to shoppers, it might eventually become a truly serious challenger to Amazon.
Future-Proof eCommerce Services To Grow Your Business
While Google Shopping agencies are still around, a better option to help your business stand out in a crowded eCommerce landscape is a well-rounded agency with extensive experience in multiple platforms.
Thrive is a trusted provider of eCommerce marketing solutions. Beyond being a Google expert, we are also highly proficient in Amazon, Shopify, Walmart Marketplace and Target Marketplace. We stay current on the latest developments in the eCommerce space to ensure our clients are always at the forefront of the industry.
Our team takes pride in our solid track record of delivering results for our clients through our unique Thrive Growth Formula. To learn more about our services, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.