google sad face logo for not enforcing google product search requirements

Thanks Barry Schwartz for the Google sad face logo.

Update: On 10/7/2011 Search Engine Watch picked up the story. Here you can read some additional insights to the lack of Google Product Search data feed enforcement.

Way back on March 14 Google announced that on June 6 they would begin requiring tax and shipping information from merchants.

The June 6 requirement was pushed back to September 1 with this announcement from Google who listened to a number of merchants who voiced their concerns that they did not have the resources to include this information by the first deadline on June 6.

The new deadline gave merchants nearly 3 additional months to find a solution to the problem.

On September 1, enforcement began and tax and shipping information was required. Today on October 4th, more than a month later, merchants still fail to include the information all together or include false data in their feeds.

Not abiding by Google’s requirements actually helps these merchants win traffic and sales because their product price appears lower on a Google Product Search comparison page.

A caveat before we dive in:

This post is not meant to criticize the individual sellers, the goal is to demonstrate how Google’s lack of enforcement can hurt the sellers who are compliant with the tax & shipping requirements.

Alright, lets go.

Example 1: Merchants not including tax and shipping information.

google product search merchants no including tax and shipping information - a required field

You can click the image to enlarge it.

In the example above 4 out of the top 5 sellers sorted by the lowest base price do not include tax or shipping information.

Follow this link to see for yourself.

  • If you click through to 365officesupplies.com,

1. You need a $25.00 minimum order to purchase from 365 Office Supplies. That’s a pretty big caveat that most shoppers probably want to know before shopping there.

But lets not get off track. I went back, updated the quantity of that item to 20 in order to exceed the $25.00 minimum order and went to checkout.

2. I got far enough to finally find out how much shipping costs. $18.75. Yes. $18.75. No wonder they don’t want to include that information there.

  • If you click through on The Office Dealer listing you’ll quickly see after you add a product to your cart, click check out, and then click the calculate shipping button, shipping comes out to $12.99.
  • If you click through on the Discount Office Items listing and add the item to your cart, you’ll notice that a $4.99 shipping charge is automatically added to your cart.

Example 2: Merchants listing free shipping when there really are shipping charges.

 google product search merchants submitting false shipping data

You can click the image to enlarge it.

In this example 4 of the top 5 merchants when sorted by tax and shipping costs who list no tax actually have shipping charges.

Follow this link to see for yourself.

  • If you click through Office At Cost, you’ll find shipping ends up being $7.49.
  • If you click through OfficeFrog.com, a little notification pops up and states free shipping for orders over $65. Estimated shipping costs for buying just that one item for my location in San Diego, California was $9.88 at the cheapest.
  • If you click through OfficeSaver, go to check out and shipping costs $7.95.
  • If you click through GotoForms.com shipping costs $9.95.

In both examples retailers clearly have shipping charges that are not being identified in their Google Product Search listings and their rankings get a boost when shoppers sort by base price or tax and shipping charges.

The consequences of this lack of enforcement:

1. Shoppers get a bad shopping experience. Google’s product comparison page lies, it’s not accurate, so the consumer must shuffle through the listings to find the real lowest price of the item. By misinforming shoppers Google is risking that these shoppers use websites like Amazon.com for more reliable product information.

2. Merchants that abide by the rules on Google Product Search see their traffic suffer because it goes to retailers with the lowest base price.

3. Merchant traffic as a whole may stagnate or decrease over time because consumers choose other more accurate shopping portals to shop from (see point 1).

At the end of the day we model our best practices around complying with Google’s product feed requirements as much as possible. Too many merchants know how quickly their Google Merchant Center can turn from great to horrible with one flip of a switch.

But what do we do to compete with those who don’t follow Google’s requirements and benefit from it?

Here are our options:

1. Manually report the hundreds of merchants that are violating Google’s policy.

2. Un-abide to Google’s rules and reap the benefits until they threaten to de-activate that account.

3. Shut up and deal with it CPC_Andrew.

None of these look like fun solutions. What I propose is that Google revamps the way they enforce new requirements, starting with some real enforcement of the current product feed requirements today.

Stop making merchants decide how to play in the grey area of requirements. If they are requirements, require them. If you gradually enforce a requirement, give a boost in ranking to the merchants that comply to the new requirements first.

I’d love to hear your opinion. Post a comment below to share your thoughts.

P.S. Back on September 7th I first noticed this issue with one of our clients and reported it on Search Engine Watch.

About the Author+Andrew Davis is CPC Strategy's Director of Marketing, an expert in ecommerce marketing strategy, product marketing and all things shopping engine related. You can contact Andrew directly at andrew@cpcstrategy.com or via phone at 619-297-3798. See all posts by this author here.

  • http://www.getelastic.com/ Linda Bustos

    Would there be a 4th option of raising awareness of the issue and putting pressure back on Google to enforce their policies? Make a big stink?

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewparkerdavis CPC_Andrew

      That’s the plan. And even though I don’t like making a big stink, to punish retailers that abide by Google’s requirements is not the way to go.

  • John

    I could not agree more! I thought they were supposed to start warning them on 9/22… What happened to that? Then after another 7 days they were going to restrict them until they were compliant. I worked 12 hours a day for 7 days prior to that to make sure all 1500 of my products were accurate. I guess I wasted 7 days of my life!

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewparkerdavis CPC_Andrew

      A lot of merchants did. And the outcome was less clicks and conversions!

  • Dave

    When Google first announced the changes Google Merchant Centre in the UK had something along the lines of “these changes will be enforced stringently” at the top, as the date came & went this changed to “On Sept. 22, we started gradually enforcing the new Google products feed spec requirements” What a joke!

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewparkerdavis CPC_Andrew

      I remember that exactly. Google likes to play with the wording “enforce gradually” vs “enforce stringently”. Whatever the case, merchants who have been compliant are losing out on thousands of dollars in sales. The system as is doesn’t make sense.

  • Dave

    Yep, & as above we have worked flat out in the past to comply with various Google hoops, why bother?!

  • http://www.advantageplusmedicalsupplies.com Adminiminmin

    Great article, and yes Google should reward the ones who comply and deactivate those who fail to correct after a 10 day notice. We invested many ours in the process to comply, to now find out the dog is toothless is an eye opener. We will continue to play by the rules, but with an open eye. Thanks again.

  • Trish

    I always include the shipping cost on all items. This is a huge eye opener and answers my question about why some of the major retailers are pushed up in search even though their shipping charges are higher than mine or why they show higher with free shipping when I knew they did not offer free shipping. Google needs to fix this problem so those sellers who are abiding by Google’s policies are getting a fair view from consumers!

  • Bob

    Just because the results pages doesn’t show tax and shipping doesn’t necessarily mean that the retailer isn’t providing it. We provide both and our listings don’t show either… lag on Google’s end maybe. I do see that we do not show up in the top ten in items where there is a lot of competition. Could be the lack of this (tax and shipping) information on our product listings. We have 50,000+ product listings. So it is very noticeable.

  • http://www.howtotestforgold.com/ Philip

    Part of the problem is that little guys like me still use paypal. There is no way for google to truly know if you are charging tax and shipping. I will slowly change over to shopping cart because that seems to be the wave in 2011-12.

  • http://www.run-it-direct.co.uk Dave

    Pay Pal are a little sneaky is so much that shipping is not shown until the payment screen. Our convertions shot up when we added card payments. Also, Google Wallet replaces Google Checkout Q1 2012-worth adding too IMO!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002577660467 Pancho Demma

    This author should shut up and mind his own business. He wants to line his pockets with money and knows that Google product search is free and that’s preventing him from making even more money! GPS has been working for 10 years without any problems. The fact that he wrote a book and has a business that charges for product search feeds, is all the confirmation that Google is his main competition and wants to harm anyone that usues google F.Off moron!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000442788728 Andrew Davis

      Wrong.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=12106128 Phil DeCook

    Good article. I’ve noticed these same issues and it’s a shame that Google doesn’t do more to fix this problem. This makes for a poor shopping experience for customers and puts rule-abiding merchants at a disadvantage.