Shopping 3.0

With physical stores temporarily shuttered, digital commerce has become a lifeline for retailers. And when it comes to online shopping, now you can have it your way, as Google, Shopify, and Facebook have released new updates to help you shop til you drop!

Last year, Zigby Analytics claimed 66% of U.S. product searches start on Amazon, compared to 20% on a search engine, 4% on a brand website, 4% on a retailer website, 3% on “other” online marketplaces, 1% on social media platforms, and 1% from other sources. And, Amazon’s dominance of product searches relies heavily on its third-party marketplace that is now outpacing the growth of its first-party marketplace.

That’s what got Google, Shopify, and Facebook thinking about how they could bring third-parties together for a big shopping party as well.

Free Google Shopping Listings

Google, who has 90.46% of the search engine market share worldwide, announced recently that search results on the Google Shopping tab will now consist primarily of free listings, helping merchants better connect with consumers, regardless of whether they advertise on Google.

Google Shopping tab now shows mostly free listings

They’re also kicking off a partnership with PayPal to allow merchants to link their accounts. And they’re continuing to work with their existing partners that help merchants manage their products and inventory, including Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce, making digital commerce more accessible for businesses of all sizes.

However the paid product listings at the top of Google search results will still be there, and at the top of the Shopping tab. So Google isn’t giving up all product ad revenue.

No surprise here…

This is actually Google returning to its roots: the first version of its Shopping service (called Froogle) was also free to list. The switch to purely paid came in 2012.

Google’s product comparison search engine allows consumers to search for, compare, and shop for physical products across different company’s products which show up as thumbnail images that display each company and price. And it works, because Google Shopping ads are proven to have 30% higher conversion rates than text ads. Some unique shopping features they’ve rolled out over the last year as they’ve continued to make an investment in this area include:

  1. Price tracking – Get savings alerts. When you find the product you need, turn on “price track” and you’ll receive a notification on your phone or email when the price of that item drops.
  2. Shop local – Use the “Available Nearby” selection to filter product searches by what’s available in local stores, so you can buy what you’re looking for immediately. 
  3. A guarantee – Buy directly from thousands of stores without leaving Google. Checkout is quick and easy since orders are completed using information stored in a user’s Google account. And every order placed through Google Shopping (i.e. it has the little colorful cart icon) is backed by a guarantee, providing access to Google’s customer support when dealing with returns and refunds.
  4. Image shopping – The Google Lens integration into Google Shopping shows you similar products as those in photos.
  5. Personalized homepage – Google has leveraged personalization technology to create a homepage that’s unique to your habits and purchases. And like Honey and other price-trackers, it can alert customers to potential savings.
  6. Earth-friendly impact – They offset the carbon emissions created from shipping your order. 

Free listings also isn’t Google’s only recent organic shopping change. Last year they tested “Popular Products” – an organic mobile-only showcase of product listings. Typically six products are shown with the option to see “More products,” with filter bubbles to refine the products.

Also, back in May 2019 the Google Shopping homepage and experience got a big revamp, as a universal cart was introduced across their whole platform of services, including Search, Shopping, Images and even YouTube. It appears they did start seeing more shoppers visit the homepage as a result:

In a slightly different direction but still shopping related, on YouTube, Google rolled out Merch shelves under videos, as well, which allow creators to sell items in a shelf directly below the video. Creators with more than 10,000 subscribers can offer merchandise such as T-shirts, hats, phone cases or any merchandise from Teespring, with Google taking a part of the cut.

So what do all these Google organic shopping experience improvements mean?

For companies, you don’t need to rush to set up your dynamic feed if you haven’t yet, as doing so will likely get you only a few more clicks. But value shoppers are likely to make the switch to Google at some point because of the easy price comparison. So definitely do add your products to Google shopping when you can.

I have a feeling this announcement was more about training shoppers to use the Google Shopping tab – letting us know the experience is about to get better because there will be more content. And it’s plausible this PR stunt is working, because there is increasing interest in Google shopping in late April:

Google Shopping searches have increased in late April
Interest in Google Shopping has waived, but is up again in late April

As a marketer, you could differentiate your freelance offerings by focusing only on providing services for perfecting Google Shopping listings for clients.

Speaking of Google partners, let’s turn now to one who also released new shopping features: Shopify.

Shopify’s Shop App

Shopify provides e-commerce tools, including digital storefronts, marketing tools, payment tools, and other services, that help companies digitize their offline businesses. And its total number of merchants rose to over a million in 2019, while also now accounting for 5.9% of all U.S. retail e-commerce sales, according to eMarketer, putting it in second place behind Amazon’s 37.3% share. In Q1 of 2020 gross merchandise volume from merchant customers jumped 46% to 17.4 billion, and interest in it continues to be on the rise:

Interest in Shopify has grown over the last 5 years
Interest in Shopify has fairly consistently grown over the last five years

Shopify is building a U.S. distribution network to store and ship products for its merchant customers. And, recently, Shopify launched a new app called Shop that makes shopping at Shopify-powered stores more cohesive. Users can follow stores and buy products directly from the app. The app is actually an update and rebrand of Arrive, their app for tracking packages, which has already been used by 16 million consumers.

Shop provides customized product recommendations to each shopper, from only brands that you’ve already shown an interested in, either by purchasing a product from their Shopify store or by following their profiles in the app. This is unlike the product recommendations on other online stores such as Amazon, which offer a feed of products from brands you don’t necessarily know — fueled by advertising. Shop will not include any ads, and it will be available for free to both shoppers and brands.

What’s missing from the app is the ability to search for products across multiple stores. Shopify has taken a store-first approach instead of leveraging the app as a shopping search engine. When you search for a shop, you’re presented with a long list of stores that match your query. After you follow a store, you are then presented with a small list of products from that store.

It also allows shoppers to browse local merchants, see which ones currently support delivery and in-store purchase, then make purchases to support them (particularly helpful now during Covid-19). The app even promises to let you fight climate change, by offsetting the carbon emissions produced by your deliveries—for free by checking out with Shop Pay.

So what does the Shopify shop app mean?

For companies, it’s worth considering whether you should be distributing your products on Shopify (and thereby also through the app). And, since the app is so brand based, ensuring your customers know your brand name is even more critical.

For shoppers, who regularly support shops on Shopify downloading the app is a no-brainer. But for those who don’t, I don’t think there’s yet a compelling enough reason to hop onboard, until discovery is made more easy.

For marketers, you could probably set up a successful business moving offline companies onto the Shopify platform, and now app as an added bonus.

Facebook Shops

And, not to be outdone, just today Facebook released Facebook Shops. Facebook Shops are free and let you sell things directly across Facebook’s apps (they appear on your Facebook and Instagram accounts to start, and soon on Messenger and WhatsApp too).

They’re working with partners like Shopify, BigCommerce, and more so that your shop can integrate into an open ecosystem of tools to manage your customer journey end-to-end.

Facebook is building a dedicated shopping tab on Instagram and a destination inside Explore where you can find and buy products. Soon, they’ll also be launching new Live shopping features across Facebook and Instagram, which will allow you to shop on Live in real-time.

Shops will use their AI and augmented reality tech to automatically identify and tag products in feeds so people can easily click-through to purchase when they find things they like. You can also personalize your storefront to first show products that are most relevant to a customer and use augmented reality to let customers virtually try on things like lipstick (hello Pinterest Lens) to see how they look before buying, or what furniture might look like in your room.

So what does Facebook Shops mean?

For companies, hello Metaverse. Go on and distribute your goods across multiple channels – set up your Shop, especially if Facebook is a main traffic driver for your site today.

For shoppers, Facebook is likely to tap into peer pressure (as well as your What’s App conversations) to influence your buying behavior. You might consider limiting your time on the app if you want to save money.

For marketers, consider offering a service moving offline businesses onto Shops. And stay tuned for special Shop ad units, launching soon I’m sure.

Up next, discover the secrets to creating the best marketing offers, no matter where you offer your products.

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By Megan Mitzel

I'm the wearer of overalls behind the marketing advice website Marketing Overalls. I'm also a senior marketing director with more than ten years of experience leading acquisition and lifecycle marketing at successful startups. Before that, I got a business degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before that, I owned a seashell shop. And that's the tea on me.