The GS1 Global Forum 2022 recently welcomed Mike Capsambelis, Product Management Lead at Google, onto the plenary stage. As part of a special retail session on “consumer trust and transparency, enabled by identity”, Mike shared his thoughts on how increasing digitalisation is accelerating consumer demand for transparency and accurate product data.
With years of experience leading product development for a variety of tech companies, Mike has seen the power of data first hand. Over the past ten years he has grown Google’s product catalogue by more than 500% and has helped millions of consumers buy the products they need from the best sellers on the market.
Being there for consumers
Mike began by acknowledging that the past two years have been a tough for both industry and consumers alike and, although the world of traditional retail is slowly “re-opening,” the landscape has changed in many ways, probably forever.
He described how one of the positive aspects of the pandemic was the way in which ecommerce has been there for consumers. As the world was forced to adapt to new ways of working and living, online sellers really stepped up, literally delivering the goods to millions and helping them buy masks, boardgames, toilet paper, garden furniture and other “essentials” for making it through the lockdowns.
While brick and mortar stores did not fare so well at first, many adapted, and Covid has brought millions of stores online for the first time.
For many of those now selling online, adopting an “unplanned omnichannel strategy” was necessary for the health of their business. This has also provided consumers which more choice than ever before as billions of new products become available through new channels across the world.
Shopping behaviour has also changed, consumers are trying new fulfilment methods such ship-to- store, curb-side pick-up, and are also returning more products than ever.
The data challenge
Mike then went on to describe how with all these new products, sellers, and consumers now online, the data challenge gets even more…. challenging. As a result, many businesses are finding themselves wrestling with online point of sale systems, re-examining barcodes they have been using for years, and having to create product feeds or add structured data to websites to ensure consumers find them.
Long-time online sellers have invested in improving the quality of product data for years; adopting unique identifiers, obtaining the best images, employing copywrites to create compelling product descriptions and structuring this data for use by machines and search engines in the larger ecosystem. But for many, a lot of this is new.
As a result of this vast influx of new product listings, we are also seeing much noisier and less complete data, both in feeds and on the web. In this world, transparency is both more important and harder to maintain. Consumers want to know the products they are buying are the right ones – essentially ensuring that “what I order is what I get.”
As Bill Ready, President of Google Commerce puts it: “to show the most relevant shopping information, we must have a deep understanding of the products that appear across Google and in the world around us”.
Building trust through transparency
According to Mike, over 1 billion consumers shop on google every day and, as part of their commitment to being there for their consumers, Google needs to ensure the products they show them are relevant and, when they decide where to buy them, exactly what they expected.
Over the past two years, the number of products listed on Google has doubled and their systems rely heavily on GTINs to match all these products. While Google do look at other identifiers such as stock keeping units (SKUs) and manufacturer part numbers, these are not as precise. GTINs help Google unambiguously identify products as unique, differentiate them from similar ones, and connect them to useful content such as reviews, videos and more.
To Mike, this is ultimately about trust, making sure any product is relevant to the users shopping journey, ensuring it is what Google say it is, and that consumers are provided complete and correct data about that product.
He concluded by emphasising the need for industry to work together and take a common approach to product identification.
The power of GTINs
Ensuring products have unique identifiers means that search engines, shopping platforms and marketplaces can be certain what the product is. GTINs enable these platforms to recognise existing products, distinguish new ones and ensure they get visibility in search results as products with GTINs often can receive 40% more impressions than those without.
So what would Mike like to see brands and sellers do? “Include GTINs in your product feeds, include them in the [structured data] markup on your site, make sure you follow the GS1 guidelines and please don’t reuse them” he said.
“Correct GTINs enable better visibility on shopping platforms and marketplaces, understanding identity enables us to show the right products in Google experiences like search, YouTube, and Google Maps.”
“With this surge in online selling and buying, there are more opportunities than ever before for all to make more meaningful connect with consumers all over the world, introducing them to new products making them confident in their decision to buy.”