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5 Google Shopping Trends That Marked eTail West 2016

Steve Tutelman

Man, that was fun. Yesterday, the Sidecar team and I traded sunny Palm Springs, Calif., for the icy chill of Philadelphia, as we returned home from the 2016 eTail West conference. Just when I had gotten over my jetlag from the voyage out there.

Without question, my favorite part of eTail West was Wednesday’s Google Shopping Live event that we presented with Google at the scenic Desert Willow Golf Resort. Dozens of e-commerce pros from a wide range of retail segments joined us to enjoy a great meal and learn some insider strategies for conquering this fast-growing channel.

Google Shopping was on my mind throughout the conference (it’s pretty much always on my mind), and this event was an opportunity for us to really dive into the nitty gritty details of the channel. For those who couldn’t make it, here’s what I learned and some of the advice I shared:

1. E-commerce pros agree: Google Shopping just got a whole lot more valuable.

By now you probably know: Google killed text ads on the right side of the screen in desktop searches with the exception of PLAs. I heard loud and clear from several e-commerce pros that they will be upping the ante on their PLA focus.

We predicted earlier this year that 2016 will be the year e-commerce pros capture the mobile opportunity — and that prediction still holds true.

With less clutter on the SERP’s righthand column, PLAs can attract greater consumer attention. And in our research, we saw that 58% of PLA revenue came from ads that were not at the top of the SERP. If there was ever a time to tune up your PLAs, now is it.

2. E-commerce pros understand the importance of bidding products based on performance, but few do it.

During my talk, I threw out a hypothetical question: I asked the audience how they would bid products if their catalog contained just two items. The methods for calculating bids that everyone tossed out all leveraged performance measurements — metrics like conversion rate, profit margin, cost of sale, etc. topped the list. No one suggested using typical taxonomy like brand or product category.

Makes sense when you think about it. But in the myriad conversations I have had with e-commerce pros about PLAs over the years, most still group their products by brand and category. Why? Because it’s the path of least resistance when you have thousands (or millions) of SKUs.

Still, e-commerce marketers who choose this approach are almost certainly losing money, either by bidding too much or forfeiting sales. A campaign structure and bid strategy rooted in performance metrics can scale, too. (For some tips, check out this blog post on how to structure Googling Shopping campaigns by performance.)

3. It appears no one is aggressively seeking out mobile traffic in Google Shopping. Yet.

E-commerce pros at our event agreed that mobile traffic converted at roughly half the rate of desktop traffic. And while some attendees shared that they use mobile bid modifiers ranging from -100% (no mobile traffic) to -30% in Google Shopping, we didn’t hear anyone say that he or she had implemented a positive mobile bid modifier.

This will likely change in 2016. In our research from Holiday 2015, we found that revenue from mobile was up by 45% compared to Holiday 2014, and that sales from mobile accounted for 23% of e-commerce revenue, a jump from 17% in 2014. We predicted earlier this year that 2016 will be the year e-commerce pros capture the mobile opportunity — and that prediction still holds true.

With less clutter on the SERP’s righthand column, PLAs can attract greater consumer attention … If there was ever a time to tune up your PLAs, now is it.

(By the way, if you’re looking to dig into this more, check out some recommendations we’ve posted on how to optimize PLAs for mobile traffic.)

4. Managing search queries for PLAs is still a challenge.

Just about one-third of our audience said that they analyzed search query reports for their PLA campaigns at least once a week. They said they used their findings to determine which keywords to negative out in their Google Shopping campaigns, or even inform their text ad campaigns — i.e. adding generic, underperforming keywords as text ad keywords to drive those shoppers to brand or category pages instead of product pages.  

Retailers should structure their PLA campaigns to bid higher for the best queries, instead of simply going negative. While Google Shopping campaigns don’t offer the same level of granular control as traditional text ads when it comes to search queries, there are better ways to manage search queries than just eliminating the ones you don’t want. Stay tuned to our blog for more insights on that in the coming weeks.

5. The consumer journey continues to evolve.

Billy Gold, strategist and product expert from Google, joined us to present at Google Shopping Live. Dismaying some of the audience, Billy kept mum about the SERP changes from Google (it’s ok, we understand ;-)). However, he more than made up for it by dishing out insights into how the consumer purchase journey has changed over the years — and what it might look like in the future.

As you probably know, mobile has changed the game. But it was interesting to hear Billy’s perspective on how consumers are increasingly reliant on image-centric ads when shopping online. “Local” will continue to become a more important word in the months and years to come as consumers increasingly expect to receive or pick up their newest retail quarry immediately, instead of waiting a couple of days for delivery.

Wow. That’s a lot to cover in one afternoon. Really, I couldn’t be happier with the way that our Google Shopping Live event and my entire eTail West 2016 experience turned out.

I heard excellent feedback from e-commerce pros from all over the world, (hopefully) helped more than a few folks improve their PLA performance, and got to share many laughs (and a few Bloody Marys) with members of the Sidecar family. And while I couldn’t find the time for a round of golf, fortunately, there’s always next year … 

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