In this week’s update, learn about free inventory feeds from Google Shopping; newly prominent retail attributes in Google My Business; a new multi-company initiative to help small businesses; Google’s Marketing Kit updates for COVID-19; new Quarantine Insights from MFour; and the persistent problem of fake reviews.
Google Shopping is now free for merchants
In a surprising move, but one that represents the next big step in its attempt to compete with Amazon in online retail, Google has announced that online and brick-and-mortar merchants can now upload their inventories for free in Google Shopping. The company says these plans were already in the works but have been advanced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, in recognition of the increased need for customers to access product information online.
Beginning this week, Google says that “search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist primarily of free listings, helping merchants better connect with consumers, regardless of whether they advertise on Google.” The new free listings will be live in the U.S. in April and globally by the end of the year. Partnerships with ecommerce platforms like Shopify make integration with Google Shopping easier.
Google Shopping interface accessed via Shopping tab in search
No mention is made in the announcement about Local Inventory Ads, the paid program that showcases product inventory in Google My Business listings. From the way the announcement is worded, it appears that free product listings will appear to consumers in Google Shopping only.
New retail attributes appearing in Google search
Offerings in Google My Business continue to evolve in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In recent weeks, retailers have been invited to specify the availability of curbside pickup, in-store pickup, and delivery. Now more of these attributes are showing prominently in listings as viewed by consumers. Depending on the options indicated by the merchant, consumers may see the following as prominently displayed attributes, with a green check indicating the service is available or a red X indicating it is not:
The “in-store shopping” attribute is newly important given that some retailers in some regions have elected to reopen stores, often with limitations as to the number of customers allowed inside at one time.
Google releases marketing kit updates to help businesses during pandemic
The Google My Business Marketing Kit website, where merchants can order or download free marketing materials such as window clings and posters with excerpts from positive reviews, has unveiled a new set of materials designed to help businesses communicate changed offerings due to COVID-19. Businesses can create customized posters as well as social media content advertising that they are open but only for pickup and delivery, offering no-contact delivery options, and similar messages,
Google My Business Marketing Kit COVID-19 offerings
Google Local Service Ads now include COVID-19 options
As noted by Local Service Ads expert Tom Waddington on Twitter, Google has launched new COVID-19 options for service area businesses including video appointments, maintaining distance, curbside service, and no-contact payments. These features will help service area businesses advertise special offerings within paid results that appear at the top of the search results page for phrases like “plumber near me.” Local Service Ads are currently available in the U.S. and Canada only.
New COVID-19 options for Local Service Ads, courtesy Tom Waddington
Google and 40 other companies launch coalition to help small businesses
Google, American Express, Paychex, LinkedIn, Uber, Trulio, IBM, Amazon, Facebook, and several other companies, some 40 in all, have joined together to launch Stand for Small, a new initiative dedicated to help small businesses navigate successfully through the COVID-19 pandemic. Noting that 43% of U.S. GDP comes from small businesses, the consortium of companies is offering “educational resources, network connections, offers and mentorship opportunities” in multiple forms, on subjects such as managing expenses, optimizing shipping and delivery, helping teams work more efficiently, and assisting businesses who are moving more offerings online.
MFour offers “Quarantine Insights”
Mobile consumer research firm MFour has released a series of research findings labeled Quarantine Insights that focus on the opinions of consumers who use apps to order items online or for local delivery. Among their insights are the following:
51% of consumers fear packages delivered to them may contain traces of the COVID-19 virus, underlining the need for messaging about safety precautions.
63% of shoppers using grocery delivery apps have had trouble finding what they need.
74% of app users are willing to abandon brand loyalty in favor of product availability.
32% of in-store shoppers are switching stores to find needed items, with 92% reporting difficulty in finding toilet paper.
65% of shoppers are able to find what they need at specialty grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, compared with 46% of shoppers at club stores like Costco.
Local Guides a source of fake reviews, according to report
According to review monitoring company Objection.co, fake reviews on sites like Google and Amazon number in the millions. Fake reviews originate, according to the company, from six principal sources: vendors that sell reviews; business owners who write fake reviews of themselves or competitors; current employees writing positive reviews; ex-employees writing negative reviews; customers lying about their experience to obtain a refund or some other benefit; and so-called “review clusters” where businesses employ friends or family to write reviews.
Many fake review vendors operate using offshore resources in China, India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Objection.co CEO Curtis Boyd credits Yelp and TripAdvisor for removing fake reviews more effectively than Google and Amazon, suggesting that Google has a problem with fraudulent Local Guides, with “tens of thousands” of Local Guide profiles owned by review farms. Google’s fake reviews problem may not be as bad as Amazon’s, however. Boyd estimates than in a particularly impacted category, Bluetooth-enabled electronics, some 90% of Amazon reviews are fake.