Saturday, June 02, 2012

The End of Google Shopping as a Price Comparison Service

Back in the earlier days of the Internet, a clever guy came up with an idea for a directory made up of nothing but ads, based up a pay-per-click model with advertisers bidding against each other for prime placement. The website and associated patents were acquired by Yahoo!, and were licensed by Google shortly before its IPO for... a ton of money. Google's subsequent history suggests that, as much as it paid, it got the better half of the bargain.

Now it seems that history is coming full circle, with Google transforming its frequently renamed and reinvented price comparison service into what amounts to a directory or search service for ads (and nothing but ads). I have to say... I'm a bit disappointed. Not because I don't see Google as having a right to charge merchants to promote themselves through a shopping service, or that I think such a service is free or easy to run - in fact, I can see how paid inclusion could help ensure that merchants keep their listings current and accurate, diminish the number of fraudulent and misleading entries, and make the service much easier to manage. My disappointment is that I use the product to comparison shop, and if merchants choose not to participate or those offering better deals don't have the budget to compete with better capitalized but more expensive competitors, the service won't fill my needs. Not even close. Not even in the same ballpark.

I don't mind paying a premium for a better product or service, but I don't want to have the good deals hidden behind mediocre vendors with large advertising budgets. I hope that Google's reinvented service turns out to be a lot more sophisticated, and useful, than the announcement and present commentary suggest.

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