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Jun 22, 2012

FIRST LOOK: The new complete Google Shopping / Product Listing Ads user experience!!

Today, we discovered that Google has one keyword live that exhibits the complete new user experience for Google Shopping, powered by Product Listing Ads (PLA).

It's all about the tents

If you've been following the big Google news (we started here, and have a webinar here and Q+A here and more blogs coming), you may have noticed that there are two types of examples that Google has given for the changes coming to the new Google Shopping: telescopes and tents.

One the folks at ChannelAdvisor had an idea, and ran a search for 'tent' to try and see the PLA screen shots live in the wild.  Much to our surprise, she discovered that the entire new Google Shopping experience is live (your results may vary as it seems they have turned it off again). 

In this post, I'll take you on a tour of the complete new GS experience.  At the bottom (skip to that if you want to understand that first) I analyze what this new User eXperience (UX) means for everyone thinking about their GPS/PLA/GS strategy going forward and introduce the Top 5 reasons you should not manage PLA/GS as if it is search (or the top 5 reasons you should manage PLA/GS like a CSE).

Notes and disclaimers:

  • Click any any image to expand it.  If you are reading this on a feed, you may want to head to csestrategies.com to go direct to get the best formatting.
  • This experience quickly went away after we found it. It's our feeling that it seems like an entirely new and detailed experience and probably represents where Google is going with GS.  That being said, Google is known for a ton of testing and it's possible this could have been a random test.  The level of investment and curation for this UX is very large which is why we are leaning this way.

GS One Box Experience for 'tent' (step one)

The 'one box' or Search Engine Results Page (SERP) integration of GS for 'tent' looks like this:

Tent1

This is very interesting.  Instead of the usual presentation where you immediately see products, we are given a complete integrated buyer's guide for tents.  Step one of that buyer's guide is picking the type of tent - camping, backpacking, beach, canopy, mountaineering or ice-fishing (who knew?!).

When the user clicks on one of these 'types' of tents they are taken to step two of the experience. 

GS Step Two Experience for 'tent'

In step two, we are now out of the SERP and into the GS experience (note that the navigation on the left is branded Shopping).

Here's what step two looks like:

Tent2

At this point in the experience, we are at a filtered navigation type system.  The filters available are:

  • Sleep Capacity
  • Brand
  • Price
  • Seasonality
  • More
  • Sort type (relevance, etc.)

What's really slick (and an innovative new UX) is that some of these still have a very clean 'guided shopping' type approach, for example, here is the sleep capacity:

Tent3

After filtering, the user is presented with a variety of different 'models' of the product that appeared to be sorted by some kind of sales rank (Amazon style).

GS Step Three Experience for 'tent'

When we click on the first product, we are now taken to a good old fashioned product page as illustrated below:

Tent4

 

Here GS has gone with a traditional paid CSE experience (shopping.com, shopzilla, pricegrabber, etc) where the 'initial' sort on the item page is not by price.  If the end-user wants to sort by price, they need to click the price column two times (the first click inexplicably does highest to lowest, then the second click does lowest to highest).

Also, notice that Amazon and eBay are both participating.  In fact, eBay has 3-5 entries based on eBay's BestMatch Algorithm (see the sidebar) and condition.  Note that the seller is 'new-sealed', that is not explicitly the condition being surfaced.

Once the consumer clicks here, they are taken to the retailer and the CPC (or CPA) is incurred.

 

Sidebar: eBay's Coleman 14x10 tents...hmmm

One unusual entry you may have noticed in the results above is that eBay's best new 10x14 coleman tent is $579 and Amazon's is $229 - could Amazon really be that much less?  When you click through the eBay listings, you see what a challenge eBay's data problem can cause as they try to participate in programs like this:

Ebay_tents

Here, eBay's algorithm has tried to match all of these tents to the Coleman 14x10 tent.  What has happened is the >$500 tent is the only one that is actually what the consumer is looking for -the other tents that eBay has matched aren't the right size.  I guess eBay is smart enough not to erroneously report those to Google, but they do erroneously group them for the consumer and it can be confusing and end up in the unalert consumer buying the wrong size.  Since eBay has no catalog for tents, this automated approach is prone to failure.

What's really painful is that it appears that eBay has a lot of $200 tents here that are Coleman instant 8-person 10x14 tents, but because of data quality issues, isn't sending those to Google and thus eBay doesn't appear competitive.

The 'tent' GS Experience - what does it mean for retailers?

That concludes the front to back new user experience for Google Shopping.  It's actaully extremely enlightening and shows what a game changer this new program is going to be for retailers and how dramatically it is going to change the PLA program.

I also think that to Google's point, this is a huge upgrade in the user experience which always is good and results in higher CRs and AOVs at the end of the day.

Frist, let's recap what we saw of note in the UX walk-through from a PLA perspective:

  • There was no 'traditional PLA' (right rail) on the initial SERP
  • There wasn't a CPC/CPA PLA 'charge' until step 3 of the process - the item page.

What's most interesting when thinking about how to strategically approach this new user experience is the item page.  With most traditional CSEs, we have found that overwhelmingly (80% plus) of the time consumers do sort by price.  What that means strategically is that you may not have to bid aggressively when you have the lowest price on a product.

Look at that initial step-3 UX - as you bid more, you are paying to move up that ladder, but if the consumer does a price sort and clicks while you have the lowest price, why would you pay more?

Five reasons that Google Shopping/PLA is a CSE and not AdWords.

This first look into the new Google Shopping user experience really highlights why retailers need to manage this program as if it were a CSE.  Here are the top five reasons you do NOT want to treat this as another adwords program (instead treat it as a steroid-amped CSE):

  1. Google Shopping/PLA is a CSE -> Well, it is a Comparison Shopping Engine - look at this UX - CSE, CSE, CSE.  Product matching, attributes, SKU-level optimization, etc. all of that is going to be super important.  Don't drop the ball here.
  2. Item page price sort - Some innovative vendor is going to create some solutions based on this experience that save smart retailers a TON of ad spend (ahem, you can bet your bottom dollar we have a big team on this already).
  3. Datafeeds - the way you manipulate this program is with datafeeds.  What if you are a tent seller and aren't providing google today with capacity, size, or one of the other ~10 attributes that Google has added to the user experience?  Well, you'll need to add those to the datafeed ASAP or you will get zero, yes zero exposure - because it doesn't matter how much you bid - if your product isn't categorized right, it won't be seen.  Period.
  4. Target transparency - PLA targets are designed to be big black boxes.  With a CSE mindset we can smash open that black box and see what is going on inside of there.  This will give you a competitive advantage over retailers that treat PLA like a search program.
  5. Target/datafeed/optimization loop- Let's say you see a new UX like this and want to change your strategy.  PLA is driven by targets which are configured in the....datafeed.  If you have to login to your adwords account to configure some new targets, then run to IT to change your datafeed (for new targets or attributes, or to exclude products) and then after X days measure that (which you can't do because you can't see into the targets), then you try to iterate, you will be 10 steps behind a retailer that is optimizing this like a CSE.
  6. Ok it's a bonus - GMV and margin vs. spend. Agencies manage based on spend.  You manage CSEs based on sales (GMV) and margin - if you manage PLA+GS on spend, you are going to get eaten alive.  It is going to be very easy to let the spend run and generate very low sales with almost no accountability (see Target transparency).

That's what we learned from the new UX - I think it's a net very positive for retailers - especially those that treat the new Google Shopping/PLA like a CSE.  For those retailers that think of it as an extension of search, you are going to be bringing a knife to a proverbial gunfight.

P.S. You saw it here first folks ;-)

SeekingAlpha Disclosure: I am long Google and Amazon.  eBay is an investor in ChannelAdvisor where I am CEO.

 

 

 

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