The Google Shopping site could lead consumers to overpay this holiday season, according to a study published by FusionGPS that analyzes several hundred Google Shopping test searches covering hundreds of items in many categories, from flat-screen TVs to smartphones to movies to books.
The study points to a move toward a pay-to-rank model and away from organic search results and optimization techniques. It also suggests that the shopping site limits consumer choice when it comes to ecommerce, including travel, and has sparked several regulatory inquires.
Google Shopping has gone commercial. But shouldn't consumers take responsibility for researching the best prices and options? The study brings up many interesting points. It's important that Google, Bing and other search engines, along with ecommerce sites, provide transparency -- but how many times have you purchased something in a brick-and-mortar retail store only to find the price is less expensive elsewhere, the return policy isn't what you thought, or the return policy is printed in such small type on the back of the receipt that you can't read it?
Recent changes to Google Shopping make it a commercial model giving merchants "new power at the expense of consumers. In the short term, the move is likely to cause many consumers to pay more during this holiday shopping season than they otherwise would have needed to pay," according to the study.
Those limited choices could lead consumers to make the wrong choice because they reduce or eliminate price competition and likely reduce the pressure to discount items, according to the study commissioned by Bing and conducted by Fusion GPS, a research firm in Washington D.C.
The study provides background on search principles of Google's founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page; the importance of shopping and comparison search engines to consumers; and what the pay-to-play model could cost consumers. It also describes the differences between Bing Shopping and Google Shopping.
Another interesting finding points to a lack of Amazon.com product listings. Hundreds of searches never served up a result showing a product available for sale on Amazon.com, according to the study. The research also did not find any listings for Walmart in the top results of searches for popular mobile phones made by Samsung, Apple, and Nokia.
In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission wrote to search engine companies recommending a clear description of how sites are selected for inclusion of query results for search engines that use paid-inclusion programs that may distort rankings or placement criteria. Today, hyperlinks often provide that disclosure. For those interested, the FTC has issued an 83-page booklet, Dot Com Disclosures, explaining the practice.