Will Google Shopping Force Small Merchants Into Oblivion?

Google Product Search is now morphing into a new pay for placement service called Google Shopping, changing a decade old organic search feature into a revenue based advertising tool, in direct conflict with statements Google previously made against such practices. They claim the remodel will result in "a better shopping experience", but will it, or will it mean that organic (unadulterated) search results are that much closer to extinction?

Shoppers using search to find products certainly appreciate faster, easier, more relevant results and will welcome the new tool if it offers them the advantages Google is touting. Remember, Google eclipsed all the competition because it's algorithm was lauded for being so good. But what if the changes mean that smaller merchants can no longer afford to list their products in Shopping and the Shopping SERP’s (search engine results pages) lose variety on both the product and seller sides? Will consumers notice? Will they care?

There are many questionable issues related to this change, but the crucial one for smaller retailers is the prospect of paying fees for what has been a free service. Until now, e-tailers with some web savvy could utilize Google Product Search as a way to compete on a relevance based level playing field, alongside even the biggest merchants. In the next few months, that will vanish and the prospect of having to bid for position against the likes of Amazon, Macys, Wal-Mart and others, will stack the odds in favor of sellers with big advertising budgets, just as it does with other Google advertising tools. Smaller vendors that are already at a financial disadvantage because they cannot outbid or outspend the big guys in other areas of advertising, are again going to feel the pain.

In principal, this is not a new phenomenon. Former search competitors silenced by Google existed with this sort of model, yet search has been viewed by users and described by Google as necessarily being “unbiased and objective”. Now, impartiality is being disguised and undermined as the search giant deftly changes this consumer feature and co-mingles its listings with organic search results.  

Fairness is sometimes a gray area in a market based economy. There is nothing that guarantees exactly the same opportunities to small entities as large. So, does Google have a responsibility to stick to their mantra and keep all forms of SERP’s pristine and equally inclusive to all, or is this just business and those that can survive it, will?

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