The Future of Google Shopping

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that Google may attempt to launch a fast-shipping option to compete with Amazon Prime. This news corresponds with an improved store-front type home page for Google Shopping. For those who are not familiar with Google Shopping, the service originally launched in 2002 as Froogle, was renamed “Google Product Search,” and appears to be half-way through being rebranded once more as “Google Shopping.”

The difference between Google Shopping and other e-commerce sites is that Google sends visitors to 3rd party stores – some of them arguably competitors – without taking the traditional cut of sales. All revenue is currently generated through ad sales.

This post discusses the minimum required changes for Google to take users from e-commerce giants like Amazon, and the impact that could have for online marketers and e-commerce sites.

More Filters

Google, not surprisingly, has a store designed for the search bar. While Google has recently added a few categories and sub-categories, the experience is still completely centered on the search box.

How accepting are users of a primarily search-powered product search? There is little doubt that online shoppers are accustomed to sidebars packed full of filters. Consider the following filters for “men’s watches.”

Comparison of filters from large e-commerce sites

I don’t know what the optimal number or combination of filters is, but it’s very likely more than 4. If a buyer already knows that he wants a silver-banded watch with an alarm and water resistance, it is much easier to allow him to make these selections up front rather than forcing him to scroll through long lists and then hunt through each product description for the relevant info.

Couldn’t a user accomplish the work of a filter by refining the query to something like, “silver band watch alarm water resistant?” My experience is that a plain search query eliminates good results, while including undesired products that happen to contain the same keywords. Below is an example of less-than-ideal Shopping results for that exact query:


Shopping query for "silver band watch alarm water resistant"

The current lack of filter options is actually a problem for Google for two very different reasons. First, some users may know exactly what they want, and find it frustrating that they cannot filter their results accordingly. Second, users may have no clue what they want from a product. A comprehensive list of filters allows users to see what their options are, decide what features they need, like, or don’t care about, and refine their choices accordingly.

Google’s has favored a purely search-based model to tie in already-existing ads from web search and eliminate the need for a person to manually select product attributes. Unfortunately for the algorithm-driven company, being an e-commerce leader today requires effective browsing and filtration functionality.

Eliminate Distractions and Redundancies

When a user is looking for a product, primary navigation should focus on helping him or her accomplish the task of finding the right product. Amazon, for example, does an excellent job of this.

Amazon navigation Google’s primary navigation, however, is focused on looking elsewhere.

Google navigation 1 Google nav 2
In addition to providing an unnecessary amount of distraction, the primary navigation is also redundant with the drop-down on the Google logo.

To further reduce distractions and eliminate noise, ad placement and content may need to be reconsidered. The text ads in the middle of the page stand in stark contrast to product images and descriptions that people are hunting for.

Merchants like Fossil may be ahead of the game, having tied their Adwords account to their merchant account:

Fossil ads in Shopping

Not only do these types of ads look more appropriate for a shopping site, but they likely have an increased click rate and quality score. If I am correct, these types of ads are likely to replace text ads completely in the future of Google Shopping

Effective Sorting

Sorting by relevance often leads users to wonder what the lowest-priced items are. Unfortunately, this has often resulted in frustratingly irrelevant or spam results for me:

A $24 LCD TV

While I would love to buy a 55” TV for $22, there’s clearly something wrong here. Problems like this often render price sorting useless. Negative experiences with Google Shopping’s sort features seem to stem from lax category guidelines (TV stands and accessories in the “television” category, for example) and the lack of filters.

The option to sort by average customer review has become an e-commerce standard; I rarely finish a purchase without sorting by customer review. I would be very surprised if Google did not add this functionality soon. Product vendors can expect to benefit now and in the future by encouraging customers to review their products on Google Shopping.


Google Shopping appeals to cost-conscious consumers by comparing prices from multiple sources and offer up the best price, along with seller reviews on stores and products. When I found a product selling for $40 on a large retailer’s site, and $20 with free shipping on a Google Shopping store, I was impressed. The lack of functionality, however, will prevent Google Shopping from being my first stop for the foreseeable future.

Clear navigation, more options, and intuitive organization are the kinds of improvements that are required to transform Google shopping – or any e-commerce site – from a second thought into an e-commerce favorite.

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