Google’s is allowing online retailers to list their products for free on its Google Shopping service, in response to retailers facing challenges in the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement means Google will still sell Shopping ads, which will give online retailers the option to appear in paid ads above the free listings.

Retailers’ product ads will also continue to appear on the main Google search results page - free listings will only be displayed if shoppers click onto the Shopping search tab.

The move comes amid the coronavirus crisis in which many brick and mortar retailers have had to close their doors. An ecommerce strategy has suddenly taken on heightened importance and urgency for merchants.

The crisis was the impetus for “advancing our plans to make [Google Shopping] free for merchants,” Google’s President of Commerce Bill Ready said in a blog post.

However, the change will be permanent and fits into the longer-term vision for the company’s role in digital commerce.

“For retailers, this change means free exposure to millions of people who come to Google every day for their shopping needs,” said Ready. “For shoppers, it means more products from more stores, discoverable through the Google Shopping tab. For advertisers, this means paid campaigns can now be augmented with free listings.”

Malte Landwehr, VP Product at Searchmetrics, said: “I believe this announcement means Google has realised that it’s losing out in the race to become the top destination for product search - where consumers go to research products and make online purchases. And while it’s positioning the news that it’s making its Google Shopping product listings free in order to help smaller retailers caught up in the COVID-19 crisis, Google must also have one eye on the likely ecommerce boom that’s going to happen as ‘locked down’ consumers are forced to make purchases online rather than going to physical stores.

“In the end, Google Shopping has become a pretty light-weight product search engine and ecommerce marketplace. Right now, Amazon and eBay are the dominant players in this space. In fact, it’s unclear if Google Shopping is even number three in the United States, where it’s also competing with the likes of Walmart and niche marketplaces such as Etsy for product search traffic.

“In most of its other key markets such as general web search, video search, maps and local search, Google is still number one. And that’s a nice position to be in before starting to monetise a service. With Google Shopping I think it’s introducing free product listings to try and retain and increase its market share. Many other services from Google are free -it’s something the company often does to capture market share.

“I also believe that the current positive run that Amazon has in the stock markets is an important factor. It seems, analysts and investors find KPIs like “number of sellers” or “number of SKUs” in a marketplace much easier to understand than the obscure patents that Google has in areas such as Natural Language Processing or similar.”

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