Free Shopping is coming to Europe!

Read Time: 3 mins 55 secs

It comes as no surprise, following on from the successful launch in the US in April, that Google’s free shopping listings are crossing the waters and will soon be available to merchants throughout the EEA. Although there was speculation on a release date, Google has now confirmed that the launch is on track and we can expect it to come into effect well before we toast in the New Year. 

Exciting as this may be, as marketers we have to ask, with confirmed changes such as these in the pipeline, what does this mean for our current marketing environment? Will Amazon’s colossal dominance as a shopping destination finally decline, and are small retailers on the road to recovery post Covid-19?

In short, what changes will we see in the digital commerce industry?

So what exactly are Free Shopping Listings?

The first question that needs answering is, what exactly are Free Shopping Listings? Although we previously explored this topic (view here) with regards to the US launch, free shopping listings are still very much in their infancy and many may question the changes it will inevitably have to the SERP landscape as we know it.

Similar to the Google Search Index, Organic Shopping Listings allows participating retailers to appear on the Google shopping tab ‘at no cost to them’. This enables merchants to connect with the millions of consumers visiting the site each day, whilst shoppers will have increased access to a huge variety of products. Where once the Google Shopping Tab was saturated with ads and paid content, the introduction of free listings will more than likely be accompanied by a substantial drop in paid content and an influx of free and organic product listings. That’s not to say paid ad spaces are redundant – retailers will still be able to pay for their listings – however the focus will be on optimising their existing product feeds rather than a war over bids. Paid ads will continue to elevate customer reach, with organic listings alongside to compliment them.

Once the bid element is removed, Google ranks product listings purely off of feed content within the Google Merchant Centre. In order to compete within the new Shopping Tab, retailers will have to maximise their product exposure by enriching their feeds to compliment Google’s algorithm.  Be sure to watch our webinar, The Feed Maturity Pyramid to learn some top tips on feed optimisation.

What will this mean for Amazon?

So what will this mean for Amazon? With 63% of customers worldwide starting their product search on Amazon marketplace, it’s no surprise that they are dominating the industry as the number one starting point for a consumer’s shopping journey – the real question is, can they maintain this?

Despite their 2019 UK turnover of  $25.21 billion in retail ecommerce sales, Amazon’s success is primarily built upon their ranking model, research resource and diverse product selection. And, with little competition, they’ve maintained their position at the forefront of the ecommerce industry since 2018. But this could all change. Although Google advertised free listings as a means by which to reconnect struggling businesses with consumers post Covid-19, it is also an opportunity for the platform to draw customers away from Amazon and reclaim their former glory as the go-to-platform for product search. With the shopping tab consisting of primarily free listings, consumers can discover a vast range of products specific to their search, with additional details such as category/condition/size available due to retailers optimising their product feeds. 

These changes to the SERP reintroduce Google as a competitor to Amazon – and as they begin to reclaim their market share, Amazon may start to lose its shine. Previously loyal consumers could easily revert back to Google Shopping for their product search, and in turn cannibalise Amazon’s colossal share of product searches.

Will 2021 knock Amazon off their previously impenetrable pedestal? Only time will tell.

What will this mean for small retailers?

Regardless of the rivalry between Google and Amazon, the implementation of free product listings will immediately have a beneficial impact, and act as a lifeline for small businesses – particularly those hit hard by Covid-19. 

With physical stores closing, and consumer behaviour shifting, many businesses are struggling to stay afloat with digital commerce and the cost of advertising. Introducing free listings will level the playing field, and grant all retailers access to Google Ads, allowing exposure to the millions of consumers visiting the site everyday. Google Shopping will help small-scale businesses to bypass the cost barrier, boosting sales and expanding brand awareness in the process.

Until organic shopping is rolled out in the EEA, it’s near impossible to predict the actual impact it will have on our digital commerce industry. For now, we can only speculate and plan for every eventuality.

This post was originally published on Incubeta’s Blog

Shopping Free Once Again!

Read Time: 5 mins 30 secs

In a piece last July, I explored how Google was returning to an old system through its Comparison Shopping Services platform. Those with a few years of digital experience will likely see the striking resemblance between CSS click-throughs and the lost world of bridging pages between Google and merchant websites.

Now, Google seems to be making a return to 2012 with the return of free shopping listings – not seen on the platform in 8 years. 

Free shopping listings will come into effect in the US on 27th April and are expected to be rolled out across the world within months. As marketers get ready for this new type of listing, there’s one question that hangs in the air. Why now?

The Timing

It’s a secret to absolutely no-one that the meteoric rise of Amazon as a Shopping destination over the last few years has taken a significant share of the market away from Google – and it’s easy to see why.  Amazon’s wide-reaching product selection is a huge plus for users, and their ranking model – which sees products ranked purely based on certain attributes rather than bids – is reflective of what drew users to Google’s core product in the first place.

With advertisers slashing budgets left and right in response to the current pandemic, we’re seeing fewer and fewer listings on the Google Shopping tab as you can’t be listed without spending. It seems that in response, Google has naturally sped up their timeframes for launching free shopping listings for fear of falling any further behind Amazon as the go-to starting point for a consumer’s shopping journey.

There have also been some reports that, after the initial boom, Amazon is now struggling with its listings and fulfilment for some of it’s largest sellers. Perhaps Google believes that by creating a Marketplace with a low barrier to entry, they can create a larger pool of products than Amazon can at this time. Hopefully, by bringing consumers over now and building a habit, customers will stick with you afterwards. 

The benefits for Google and consumers are numerous, but what about the impact on merchants? How will this change the way we run our paid campaigns; from 3rd-party tracking to measuring performance across both organic and paid shopping. What will this mean for the relatively young CSS program in Europe? In short, how will we have to adapt?

Preparing for Success

If you’ve already opted into the Surfaces Across Google program, you’ll automatically be opted into Organic Shopping. When it comes to measuring performance here, it’s important to note that organic ads will only be appearing within the Shopping Tab, which means they’re going to have a relatively small impact on volumes. Estimates suggest that the volumes coming through the Shopping Tab make up between 5-10% of totals, which is still enough to have an impact on your campaigns.

The actual volumes could be even smaller than that, as current communications say the shopping tab will be “mostly” free. The specifics of this are anyone’s guess, but there are a number of steps you can take to ensure that the impact of this new product listing is measured properly.

To ensure you’re accurately measuring your performance, we recommend that you apply your Google and Adobe tracking parameters to your Merchant Center so you can continue to monitor volumes across all shopping types within your analytics platform. We also recommend that you place an additional level of parameters so you can differentiate between the two sources of traffic; which should mean you can measure the impact of organic shopping on your performance. 

We will also be taking snapshots of the Shopping Tab results on some of our key terms, so we can monitor how changes have affected the results within the tab. This will be a key step in learning how we can influence the shopping tab going forward.

Over time, it will be important to closely monitor your CPCs. Whilst most merchants are already listed in shopping, any new entrants to the space as well as fewer spots to compete for may cause CPC inflation – leading to increased costs within the SERP. Yes, counterintuitively Google’s free Shopping could lead to you spending more overall.

What about the CSS Program? 

While we don’t know specifically when the new system will be coming to Europe, we do know that it will become significantly more complicated. Currently, CSS providers have the opportunity to appear within the shopping tab if they wish to, but this is without the benefit of the 20% discount incentive. Moving forward, there are two main options for how this might work.

Firstly, and most unlikely, CSSs may still appear for their merchants within the Shopping Tab, with the listing that has the best-tuned feed being the one that gets priority. Considering the complications that 3rd-party tracking would cause, this seems like the least likely option.

Instead, I believe that it will mean that all CSSs without the meta tag activated within the Merchant Center will be excluded from Organic Shopping results. This will mean a reduction in traffic from CSS providers that do not operate out of the main client accounts. This would be a fair enough step in my view; after all, we don’t let Google bid within our bybuybye.eu Shopping Tab.

Who Wins Out?

If Google are ranking listings based on all the same criteria as before, without the bid coming into play, then those with the best feeds will have the best chance of winning in this space. Running an audit to understand your current feed, and optimising based on the findings, will give you a strong basis here. You can find some tips on getting the best out of your feed in our recent webinar.

There is also a chance that Google will take a more handheld approach to the new world; perhaps using some of the more well-known SEO drivers, such as authority, relevance and credibility to decide who will show. However, this could make it more difficult for smaller brands to appear within the Shopping Tab in the future. To help prepare for this, find ways for your paid teams to work more closely with the SEO team to ensure your feeds are optimised for the right terms and phrases that people are searching for. 

Ultimately, we don’t know what the real impacts and results of changes will be until Organic Shopping is rolled out. All we can do is set up to measure impacts and plan for every eventuality. The only constant is change in our industry, and I for one welcome it as an exciting opportunity to demonstrate our adaptability.

We will be analysing the impact closely in the US, so stay tuned for the results.

This post was originally published on Incubeta’s blog.

You Can’t Spell Christmas Without CSS

Read Time: 6 mins     

The end of the decade is in sight and as the rest of the country avidly watches this year’s Christmas adverts, ecommerce businesses across the country are gearing up for what’s expected to be another sizable Q4 (despite the 2019 Brexit will-they-won’t-they and the December election). 

For marketers, the most wonderful time of the year is also the busiest – we’re managing more data, more products and more customers than ever. In fact, some recent research shows that more people are planning to take part in Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year, leading to an estimated total spend of £7 billion (an increase of over 55% from last years’ £4.5 billion). 

If this wasn’t enough, there’s also the double-edged sword of Black Friday falling after payday this year. Although this sounds more exciting for marketers at first, it also means that sales could potentially be “stolen” from Christmas campaigns, putting a lot more pressure on a concentrated few days rather than the whole holiday period. Perhaps more so than ever this year, Black Friday will underline the success of a brand’s Q4 and, consequently, the success of the entire year.

Each year, we have to ask ourselves the same questions: how do we handle the competition when an ever-growing number of contenders are launching deals? How do we manage rising costs thanks to heightened competition? And how do we utilise our marketing channels to their maximum capacity to drive the results that will define success for the year?

All of these different pressures can add up, leading to one very busy marketing manager.

Whilst we can’t help with everything in a single blog post, what we can offer is some marketer-to-marketer advice on your Shopping campaigns. 

Shopping has been around for a long time, and the NMPi team has been helping retailers since its birth. So, with the introduction of biddable media’s youngest child – Comparison Shopping Services (CSS) – we can use our years of expertise to help you make the most of this channel this winter.

CSS operates in much the same way as Shopping campaigns, with vendors bidding to show their ads in the top five positions of the Shopping window. Techniques to improve Shopping campaigns are numerous and varied, so we’ve focused on two pivotal aspects of Shopping activity to help you increase your chances of listing above your competitors: budgets and feeds.

Budgets

First of all, if you’re not, make sure you’re using a CSS! Delivering your Shopping campaigns through a CSS provider means a 20% gain in efficiency, all of which results in the holy grail for paid media campaigns – better performance for less. Your budget will go further, which is particularly important as an Adthena report earlier this year showed that Google Shopping makes up approximately 82% of total search budgets, making this an important channel to capitalise on and to assign spend.

Additionally, increases in competition and elevated spends over peak retail season result in inflated CPCs, making it tricky to drive performance without overspending. According to recent research, bid prices in the apparel vertical in Great Britain grew by 16.7% over November and December of last year. With these soaring costs and rising numbers of rivals trying to stake their claim in the market, it’s important to allocate budget effectively to maximise performance over peak times. Additional investment / CPA increases can help to address this and drive further results. 

Feeds

Whilst you can pump spend into campaigns to drive performance, results will be underwhelming if they’re not accompanied by effective, granular targeting geared towards accelerating sales. Unlike PPC, it’s not possible to bid on keywords with Shopping campaigns or have as much control over products that are shown in the SERP. We have to rely on Google’s algorithm, which often prioritises price as the deciding factor for the product that wins the auction and is displayed. Ensuring that your feed set up is as detailed as possible enables you to influence which products you want to push to potential customers.

As brands promote their holiday stock, a quick way to prioritise these items is to insert the sale/seasonal name into the feed titles. For example, ‘reindeer jumper’ becomes ‘Christmas reindeer jumper’. This allows you to guide your campaign decisions based on seasonal key search terms. 

You can repeat this process across bestsellers, higher-margin products, new season releases, and other items you want to push throughout the year too. 

Successful strategies this season will incorporate performance data into their feeds to automatically optimise activity. Within the feed, there are five available custom label columns, and this can be populated with information that will enable Shopping campaigns to generate revenue, including metrics like AOV, ROAS and bestselling/sale items, which can all be used as a base for campaign decisions. If you’re able to push margin data into the feed, third-party Shopping partners using tools such as SA360 (like NMPi), can utilise this to maximise revenue – visibility of margins offers insights into which items can be pushed harder. 

On top of this, the feed data used for Shopping activity can also be employed when delivering cross-channel campaigns. Centralising your data, and using the same signals across multiple channels, can help with campaign decisions and drive optimum performance. Too often, retailers silo their data, resulting in poorer performance. If a user clicks through a Shopping ad for a brand’s bestseller, this information can be pushed back into the feed to make sure the next time the user is browsing, they are served a Display or Social creative based on their previous decision, streamlining the user journey. Other important signals to take into account include top performers, high priority and higher-margin items, seasonal products and price comparison.

Overall, the best campaigns this winter will be the ones that implement a combination of well-optimised feeds and carefully decided budgets, anticipating the rise in competition as well as pushing specific products. Picking your battles is key; there’s little use in pushing products that aren’t going to sell. Making sure that detailed feed labels are applied, and data is centralised, enables smarter bidding decisions when promoting items, and encourages a more cost-effective approach across all marketing channels.

Success over the holiday season is ever more intricate, requiring meticulously planned campaigns that both foreshadow and respond to user behaviour. Using previous performance data, and analysing YoY trends, enables you to estimate the expected outcomes of the coming year. NMPi’s 2018 analysis below shows key retailing dates and their impact on clicks and conversion rates.

With multiple dates to circle in the diary, it’s no wonder that the holiday season is the most frenzied time of the year for marketers. And with Shopping competition higher than ever this year, it is vital to give yourself the edge by being granular, using your data and optimising your feed.

To find out more about our thoughts of the retail sector, you can explore our deep-dive report on the State of Advertising.

To get in touch about how NMPi can support your Shopping and other feed-based activity, please send an email to [email protected].