Google announced in mid-March that they would be requiring shopping feeds to include a unique product identifier, and that requirement went into effect yesterday. Google followed up with a post on their blog saying:
These requirements are part of an ongoing effort to make Product Search better for our users. Our unique identifier requirements enable us to build detailed product pages to help shoppers learn about products and compare prices from across the web.
To me, this really reads like their goal is to be better able to know when two products from different sites are actually the same product. By requiring the product identifier — which in most cases will be a manufacturer number — Google will much more easily be able to group products and offer to users only the lowest priced ones out there.
I’ll be curious to see how this works out, because on the surface it seems really easy to game the system. If you have higher prices and don’t want to always look bad compared to your competition, you can just make up your own internal product numbers. What’s more concerning to me is that typically the lowest listed price you find for anything on the internet is often not what it’s represented to be: it’s an abnormal quantity (either lower than typical, or requires purchasing in bulk), or requires purchase with another item, or has crazy handling fees, or even isn’t what it claims to be. Unscrupulous internet retailers are likely to be encouraged to use more of these deceptive practices so that their product looks to be much cheaper, and thus wins the coveted top shopping feed positions.
If that practice becomes remotely common, then the shopping feed suddenly loses all values to users — but I’m not certain what the solution to that is, other than massive manual review. Can Google algorithmically sort these bad guys out of their shopping feed?