Well, it had to happen. Google has started to monetise products where it has previously been free to list. Is this the start of a trend and where might it appear next?
Google Products (which once upon a time was Google Base) is now morphing into Google Shopping, and the only products appearing in Google Shopping will be paid listings. This is a fully commercial approach, rolling out in the US by autumn (just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas) and although Google justifies the move, it is likely to cause a storm about the removal of the level playing field, especially for small businesses with competitive products who will struggle to compete in the shopping SERPS against the big boys.
Many of the small companies never mastered getting their products listed anyway, but now the chances of featuring in Shopping are going to depend purely on budget and/or how good your internet marketing agency is at getting the algorithmical mix right for listings. Search marketing and PPC agencies will need to investigate the best approach to serve clients sooner rather than later, and create the necessary systems to offer the service when it reaches UK and Rest of World.
Not only that but there is also going to be a need for agencies to explain clearly to clients how fully functioning backend systems, robust and consistent supply chains, great customer service, fast shipping, and going the extra mile for every customer are now going to be ever more important. It is highly likely that the Trusted Stores feature is going to be included in the algorithm for rankings for products in Google Shopping.
Yes, all businesses should be striving to deliver all of the above anyway to their customers, but for many the correlation between getting those basic aspects of business right and internet marketing have been too distant to grasp. Until now. With Google stepping into the middleman space of product reviews and handling customer issues, as well as charging businesses for the privilege to feature, it will become increasingly more important for those relying on Google for leads, conversions and sales to look holistically at the whole business and the relationship between a top SERP listing in Shopping and the service being offered to the end consumer.
It may not seem immediately apparent to many, even with the growth of social networking and word of mouse recommendations, that it is likely that your secretary's correct handling of a phone call from a customer, or the failure of the supply chain to deliver on the due date, will now affect where your products list in Shopping because of the review feature for any customers. Dissatisfied customers could potentially have a serious effect on your bottom line if poor reviews through the Trusted Stores feature mean your products are forced down the SERPS.
Which other search engine real estate can you imagine may also get this commercialisation treatment from Google? How do you envisage that the new paid for Shopping listings may affect your online sales and e-commerce? Will you change marketing strategies e.g. away from Google to counter the possible effects? Let us know.