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Google Shopping Search Bias Warning

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I'm sure most people realise this but Google doesn't do a whole of market search for products it puts forwards products from retailers that may have advertised with Google previously etc or creates a very limited window of what is actually available.

Case in point Halfords bikes. Halfords have about 40% of the UK market bike market by volume and about 25% by revenue but you wouldn't know that from Google's shopping search. Sometimes random Halfords bikes appear but they are often less popular models but generally they don't.

If you search for bikes be it mountain bikes or road bikes you get a lot of hits for Amazon, ebay and higher end bike brands but the best value models that you really need to consider often don't feature in the Google results.

I'm sure this is across many sectors but I only notice it on bikes because that is what I know. Often the bikes Google puts forward are an appalling selection of what is available and terrible value.

The Carrera Virtuoso is probably the best selling road bike in the UK. It's a budget Claris based road bike with disc brakes and retails for £380 when many brands are now charging over £1000 for Claris road bikes or close to it but most are round £600-800.

Halfords have actually been very good recently with their logistics and have managed to get in bikes fairly well compared to many other shops. They don't really pay for marketing they just buy bikes from the big bike factories in Asia typically and retail them directly themselves. This gives the end customer much better value because the logistics are so simple.

Google is not your friend, it is a commercial company trying to extract money from you. They don't want you to buy a £380 bike if you would consider a £700 bike and they get £20 revenue from it.

Personally I think such sites should have a warning about them controlling the results you see and that their results may not represent the best purchase for you. Also instore can often offer better value for many items but google wants you to make an online purchase with affiliate income for them.

The same is true of many shopping search bots I'm sure all trying to generate revenue and lead you to where they get affiliate income but Google is so huge and I think people have a positive view of them.

I should point out I have no connection with Halfords at all and I'm sure there are many sectors where some companies dominate value but are unseen from Google shopping results, Halfords was just the example I know.

One trick you can do is if you use Google shopping search and you find a product you are considering do a normal non-shopping search for that product name and you may find because you are specifically looking for that product you find many more options often cheaper for the same product. These may be companies that do not advertise with Google and therefore do not need to create such a high margin to pay for Google advertising.

BonzoBanana
a month ago
What do you think of this?
snoogans888
snoogans888a month ago

This is a excellent reminder thank you. Quite often I’ll just look at the first page of Google as I’m pressed for time. But I’ll try and make sure to be more diligent in my future searches.

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Tom
Tom
Founder
a month ago

This is a really good post.

I think many people do not realise that these are adverts:

Image

Brands pay-per-click to show here. So even if you're a tiny company with a very expensive, terrible bicycle, if you pay the most you'll show here.

And on Google Shopping itself, it's even more unclear. All of these are paid-for adverts:

Image

You have to go beneath all of that to see other products that are not adverts.

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BonzoBanana
BonzoBanana
Original Poster
a month ago

I'm actually talking about the main search listing not the adverts elsewhere on the page. I'm saying the search criteria is biased in favour of their advertisers generally and you get a distorted view of what is available.

If you search for a Claris road bike or just road bike and price it up to £400. See if the Carrera Virtuoso appears anywhere which is the most popular choice in the UK with the highest number of sales and based on decent entry level components, the type of bike people who know about bikes would buy. I'm saying the algorithm Google use has a strong bias. Google seems to favour US companies like Ebay and Amazon and often US brand bikes appear amongst other higher end brands which are more expensive. It's a distorted view of the market.

The Carrera Parva has come up for your search of a hybrid bike but the reality is that is a higher margin product for Halfords with a freewheel and lower cost components the better Halfords choice is the Carrera Subway for a similar bike. Then you have the Indi Tc1 which before the pandemic I think was about £85-90. It feels to me these are bikes that Halfords have now increased the margin for to pay for some advertising but they are not the deals to get from Halfords as an end consumer.

I suppose you could think of it another way. Halfords have well spec'd bikes that sell themselves and have bikes that do not sell as well because they are inferior value so those require more marketing. Google's bias means the well spec'd bikes competitively priced do not appear as the company is not marketing them. Of course some bikes will be competitively priced and well marketed they will appear but that in my experience is far less common because they would have eroded a huge amount of their margin.

Why have a marketing budget for a product that people buy anyway and may have limited supply?

I guess I'm saying the bikes with tighter margins that cannot afford to have a marketing budget don't appear on googles shopping pages. You could say there is a google tax on the products recommended by google, either price or you end up with lower end inferior components.

Maybe I'm unrealistic but when I search for road bikes lets say I'd expect all models from all major suppliers to appear in the listing so I can make an informed choice and if that isn't what I'm getting I would expect a warning to state this is a commercially biased shopping result. That would be fair and accurate to consumers. To omit the most popular model of a product because maybe you get no affiliate income means it is actively working against the financial interests of consumers which I'm not against but there should be a clear warning on screen.

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