Google Shopping has changed a lot over the years. The original model in 2002, known as Froogle, gave retailers the opportunity to utilise Google’s web crawler to index product data from their site, and merchants were able to advertise their products for free on Google, with AdWords supporting the free model by showing paid ads alongside the search results.

In 2007, Froogle rebranded as Google Product Search, and in 2010 integration with AdWords began as Google introduced Product Listing Ads (AKA PLAs).

Google Product Search and the Merchant Centre remained independent of AdWords (other than being used for PLA integration), but there were telltale signs that this would not be the case for long. The announcement many retailers were dreading finally came in May 2012 – Google confirmed that they were rebranding as Google Shopping globally – and that merchants would have to pay-to-play.

As part of the move to a paid model, feed specification changed. The feed was previously quite simple, but for those selling products with variants, such as apparel, this is where it began to get both confusing, and time intensive for smaller retailers that didn’t have the resources or the know-how to update their feed. Any products not using the correct variants or mandatory feed specification would be rejected, and a lot of smaller retailers now had to get their heads around using AdWords – and finding budget to continue advertising their products.

Google then announced that in summer 2014, PLAs were being replaced with Google Shopping campaigns. Admittedly, they made changes that resulted in the campaigns being easier to manage in some aspects, and seeing as merchants had already been using AdWords for a while now, making the migration from PLAs to Google Shopping was relatively painless, although targeting became less granular, which was an issue for a lot of advertisers.

So what is changing about Google Shopping now?

The most significant change to Google Shopping means that retailers will now need to include a GTIN and a brand for a number of products. Merchants have until 15th September to make these changes.

A GTIN, or Global Trade Item Number, is a unique and internationally recognised identifier for a product. When a GTIN is available, it will appear next to the barcode, as shown in the examples below.

GTIN Examples

GTIN Examples

Initially, this will affect products where the ‘brand’ is a designated brand and the ‘condition’ is ‘new’.

The list of designated brands includes Apple, Adidas and Nike, and is set to grow over time. If you stock any major brands, ensure that you check the designated brand list and ensure GTINs are populated and accurate.

Unique product identifiers (UPIs) that merchants may already be using are brand and Manufacturer Part Number (MPN). Products that should be using GTINs instead of MPNs, or those with missing or incorrect unique product identifier values will be rejected. Google did warn retailers that MPN may be replaced with GTIN – so this doesn’t come as much of a shock to me. The best thing to do is update all products in the feed to include a GTIN – whether they are on the designated brand list or not. You’ll undoubtedly have to update it at some point anyway!

GTIN Warning

GTIN Warning

In addition to this, there are other changes to the feed specification that you may need to know about:

  • Merchants can use an ID from the new list of Google Product Category IDs, rather than having to enter the entire Google Product Category path
  • Apparel and Variants are now included under a new section named Detailed Product Attributes and Item Groupings to help merchants provide more information about their products
  • Units and Quantity attributes are now available for products sold in bulk or high volume (In the US)
  • Shipping requirements (which enable the total price to show to users) is expanding to Switzerland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Japan. This change won’t be enforced until February 1st 2016 as getting these changes implemented is likely to be more complex for many merchants

More information on changes to the Google Shopping Feed can be found here.