Google is making a significant change to its Google Shopping platform by letting any business owner that sells products online list their inventory for free. Usually, an e-commerce operation would need to pay for ad placement on Google Shopping. But the company says it will now let anyone who operates a website or manages a store on a marketplace platform list without paying. Google still plans to charge companies for top placement as promoted listings.
“What we’re seeing is that they are many, many retailers and small businesses that stand ready to serve shoppers, but don’t yet have a great way to connect with them digitally,” Bill Ready, Google’s president of commerce, tells The Verge. “We think that by doing this, it helps many more shoppers find what they’re looking for, but it also helps bring some quite needed relief to the retail and small business ecosystem.”
Ready says Google has been working on these changes for some time, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is pushing it to accelerate those plans. The new free option for Google Shopping will go into effect for the US starting April 27th, and Ready says it will be rolling out to Google Shopping worldwide over the course of the next few months.
Existing customers will now be able to list their full inventories in the event they were only paying to promote some products on the platform. New users can now apply to place listings for free through Google’s Merchant Center.
As part of the effort, Google is partnering with PayPal to help bring more merchants onto the platform faster by letting them link their existing accounts for accepting online payments. Google is also working with e-commerce inventory management companies like Shopify to ensure companies that operate mostly through their own websites can quickly shift to selling on Google Shopping.
Google Shopping, as an integrated part of the company’s search engine, has been around for nearly two decades. In that time, it’s grown as an alternative to standard e-commerce giants like Amazon and the websites of traditional retailers like Best Buy and Walmart by letting retailers list their direct website links and letting customers search for individual products and price match.
But since 2012, Google Shopping has required merchants to pay the company to list products as a form of advertising, leading to fewer companies opting to use the platform instead of simply running standard Google Search ads or using other third-party seller services like Amazon Marketplace and eBay. The Google Shopping platform was also the center of a historic €2.4 billion fine from the European Union in 2017 over Google’s prioritization of Shopping links in search results over competing price matching services.
Today’s announcement, however, should make Google Shopping more accessible at a time when businesses around the world have been forced to shut down brick-and-mortar retail stores and move everything online. According to the Commerce Department, total US sales, which includes online and offline retail sales and food and beverage spending, dropped 8.7 percent in March. That’s the biggest drop in the nearly 30 years the federal government has tracked the metric, The New York Times reported last week.
A major part of that is due to mandated closures from local governments shutting down in-person shopping and spending, but it’s also due to the fact that some merchants haven’t yet been able to shift fully to online selling while crucial shortages for certain product categories mean certain items are perpetually out of stock from big-name retailers.
Ready says the shift for Google Shopping won’t help with product shortages and more systemic issues with supply and demand. But it could mean smaller businesses with inventory that wasn’t available before could soon show up in search results, and it might be a lifeline for small businesses suffering to stay afloat while shelter-in-place orders remain in effect.