The Web Retailer News Digest for May 21st, 2021

As the undisputed heavyweight champion of search engines, and the most visited website in the world, it’s easy to think of Google as the king of all things internet.

But ecommerce is one of the few areas where Google has lacked success and staying power. Perhaps this is now changing, as Google and Shopify have announced a new partnership this week – giving Shopify’s 1.7 million-plus merchants easy access to Google Search and other services.

While specific details are a bit scarce, the upshot is that this partnership will allow Shopify sellers to have their goods appear across Google platforms such as Search, YouTube, Lens, Maps, and Images. While Google may not be the leading place where consumers make purchases, it is the second most popular place (behind Amazon) to search for products.

With this new partnership, the hope is that bringing Shopify merchants directly to the one billion daily “shopping journeys” of consumers will finally give Google a lasting – and significant – foothold in ecommerce. But will it? It feels like this is a song we’ve heard a few times before.

Another big move in ecommerce… and it might just work

On more than one occasion in the past, there’s been a big announcement from Google about their latest ecommerce breakthrough or scheme, followed by… nothing. For all the success they have with many of their 271+ other products (YouTube, for example), maintaining traction in the ecommerce space has been elusive.

Consider these blips from the past three years.

In 2018, we saw the unveiling of Buy On Google, an ambitious attempt to create a multi-seller marketplace like Amazon or eBay. It boasted merchants like Target and Costco, and integrations with Google Express, Google Search, and Google Assistant. But by February 2021, there were only 7,400 sellers registered on the marketplace – hardly enough to make Mr. Bezos lose any sleep.

In September 2020, Google eliminated fees for listing products on Google Shopping, in an attempt to draw in more merchants. Despite the offer of free listings, merchants remained skeptical that it would bring in any significant sales unless they paid for a premium placing. The result? Nothing really changed.

Then in October 2020, there was an attempt to get into the social shopping scene being cornered by Instagram and Facebook. Google announced plans to make buying on YouTube a major priority. We’ve heard nothing more about this in the months since, but a test integration of YouTube with Shopify may have set the stage for the most recent announcement.

Will this new plan work? There is certainly a lot of potential. Instead of trying to lure merchants to its own platform, Google can integrate Shopify’s 1.7 million-plus eager sellers who are already out there. Shopify currently holds 18% of ecommerce platform market share in the US, and has sellers in 175 countries. By adding that sales volume to its enormous search traffic, Google may finally have found a way to make shopping on its services useful to consumers and attractive to sellers.

For Shopify sellers looking to add a massive funnel to their store in only a few clicks, there is plenty of opportunity here. The promised cross-service integration features could be the key. A potential buyer looking at a product on YouTube may be able to click on the video to add an item to their shopping cart. Coupled with a potent new system called the “Shopping Graph”, this initiative could allow Google to fend off Amazon’s growing share of the advertising market.

As usual, time will tell. Google clearly isn’t giving up on ecommerce, and maybe this is the initiative that will finally make an impact.

Read more at TechCrunch.

Amazon news

Automatic verification of buyer non-delivery claims

In the latest example of Amazon’s continued push for more automated processes, this week they announced a new policy on verifying buyer non-delivery claims. In the event a buyer claims a package was not delivered, Amazon will now automatically use the carrier’s tracking information to determine the status of the package delivery and issue refunds.

The tracking information will show Amazon if packages have not been shipped by the ship-by date, or if packages were refused on delivery, for example. Amazon claims this new policy will reduce the time and effort to verify a valid claim. Sellers can, of course, file an appeal which will require the seller to provide proof of delivery.

This is the latest example of Amazon taking sellers out of the shipping and returns process, similar to the new Refund at First Scan (RFS) policy which began on May 4, wherein “Amazon will automatically refund orders when the customer hands them over to the carrier, for sellers who fulfill their own orders and are enrolled in the Prepaid Return Labels program.”

As you might expect, sellers are none too happy about these new policies. The automated verification seems ripe for abuse from untrustworthy buyers and scammers trying to get free products. It penalizes sellers who are the unfortunate victims of mistakes such as tracking information not being properly transmitted.

It’s really the latest reminder to sellers that the shoppers are Amazon’s customers, not theirs, and Amazon wants sellers to be involved in as few ways as possible. Sellers continue to lose autonomy while Amazon is booming, leaving us with a lingering feeling that the robots are taking over faster than we might have expected.

Read more at Amazon Seller Forums.

No more HTML in listings… but what about emojis?

The tags, they are a-changin’. Amazon issued a reminder to sellers this week that HTML tags on product detail pages will no longer be supported after July 17, 2021. They strongly encourage sellers to update their descriptions prior to that date, as HTML tagged content will not be shown, or will be shown without formatting.

Reading between the lines, Amazon is not-so-gently pushing sellers to register their brands and begin publishing A+ Content using Amazon’s own design system to create richer experiences for customers – including video, comparison charts, and high-quality images.

While this may benefit brands and vendors, it creates inequality with resellers who don’t have brands to register and thus are not eligible for A+ Content. While there has been some outcry among the seller community about this latest move, there has also been some confusion as to what exactly will be affected by this policy change.

Many sellers are upset because they believe that useful formatting like line breaks and bold text will be taken away as the result of these changes. Others are jubilant at the prospect of emojis disappearing from bullets points.

Emojis, however, are not usually HTML but Unicode, and thus a type of character just like ordinary letters and numbers. Those who hate to see arrows, shapes and faces in bullet points might be disappointed, but hopefully everyone else can relax and 😀 until they get their brands registered and upgrade to A+.

Read more at Amazon Seller Forums.

Other news

Personalization tool launches on eBay UK

eBay is doing something rather unusual – adding new features to eBay listings. Reflecting the popularity of personalized items, eBay is adding a new tool that will help sellers fulfill orders easier, without the hassle of sending separate messages to handle personalization requests.

On eBay UK, sellers can now activate a personalization pop-up form that allows buyers to simply enter their desired text for any personalized item. Sellers can also give buyers specific instructions on the information they require. This simplifies what has been, for many years, an awkward process.

eBay often tests innovations in one market before expanding to others, so if the new tool performs well in the UK, it’s likely to roll out in the US and other territories soon after.

With Father’s Day fast approaching, eBay UK sellers will also benefit from a fee cut to 2% on personalized items until May 31, 2022. UK sellers and buyers of personalized products such as “Michael – the World’s Best Dad” logo t-shirts will benefit from easier transactions that should result in easier conversions and higher sales.

Find out more at YouTube and Tamebay.

Etsy releases policy enforcement Transparency Report

In the wake of Business Insider’s takedown of what was really being sold on Etsy – think mass-produced goods, weapons, porn, preserved animal parts, and even uranium – Etsy has released its 2020 Transparency Report, aka Etsy reputation repair.

Our Transparency Report is an important way that we demonstrate our commitment to being a mindful, transparent, and trusted brand. We choose to share this information annually to reinforce these values and help our community better understand how we’re working to keep our marketplace safe. 

The report does share a few stunning numbers. There was a 400% increase since 2019 in potentially noncompliant product listings. The number of intellectual property takedowns increased 58%. In large part, Etsy blames the issues on their exponential growth in the last year.

Zooming out a bit, there may be something to that. Rampant unemployment and global lockdowns due to the pandemic forced people to survive indoors (and online) however they could – and for some that meant selling shady stuff on Etsy and other platforms.

On the bright side, Etsy has pledged $40 million to bolster its Trust and Safety Program to review sellers and listings. They are also publicly sharing their Product Safety Principles to show both buyers and sellers that their heart is in the right place.

Etsy will be working to remove noncompliant listings and sellers, while providing a safe and secure marketplace for all. In the meantime, we recommend not buying any hand-crafted, uranium-coated spiked clubs on Etsy until further notice.

Find out more at Etsy.

Webinars in the week ahead

For everyone

May 27: Avalara CRUSH Virtual (Avalara)

Various dates: Amazon advertising’s global webinar program rolls on with 20+ webinars scheduled, covering Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, reporting, optimization and tips (Amazon).

For US sellers

May 24: Amazon FBA Multi-Channel Fulfillment (Amazon).

May 26: Global Selling in Amazon Stores (Amazon).

May 27: Amazon Prime Day Panel (Tinuiti).

And finally…

eBay’s adults-only section is closing down

In a story first reported by Adult Video News (of course), eBay has announced the forthcoming shutdown of its Adults-Only section. Basically the internet’s largest adult bookstore/sex shop/place-where-your-creepy-neighbor-shops-online will pull its shutters down as of June 15, 2021.

ebay Adults Only section closing down

On a serious note, this represents quite a change for eBay, which built itself up as the marketplace where you could sell just about anything. But, in a sudden fit of prudishness, things have changed.

Starting June 15, 2021, items showing sexual content or sexually suggestive poses will no longer be allowed on The “Everything Else > Adult Only” will no longer be available as a category. 

Newly prohibited items include adult DVDs, magazines, video games, hentai anime, domain names, and anything with nudity as per the updated Adult items policy. And the nudity policy gets really specific, down to a body part level.

Interestingly, certain publications and adult items will remain for sale, but in different sections of the site. These seem largely to be collectible magazines (including Playboy, Playgirl, and Butt, among others) and new sex toys from approved sellers.

Why this is being done is a bit of a mystery, but eBay is laying on the “maintaining a safe and trusted marketplace” story pretty thick. Here are the three best theories found in the comment sections and online message boards so far:

  1. Adult products are high-candidates for fraudulent transactions and are being removed as part of an anti-fraud cleanup.
  2. Walmart, a big behind-the-scenes partner, wants to make eBay family-friendly.
  3. Something something managed payments.

The real question for those who want to continue to sell Adult products on eBay is summarized by othelloblack on Reddit:

othelloblack comment on Reddit

For an answer to understanding what is suggestive, we turn to the solemn words of United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…

Read more at Silicon Valley Business Journal and EcommerceBytes.


Jake Pool

Jake Pool

A content writer in the SaaS, FinTech, and eCommerce spaces, Jake Pool has written hundreds of articles and reviews for dozens of corporate blogs and online publications. With four years under his wing, readers can expect many more informative articles in the future.

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