Google's shopping search still falls short of EU demands, say rivals

Tyrone Stewart

Google mobile searchGoogle is still not complying with the EU’s demands for it to make its search results when people are searching for products, according to the company’s shopping comparison service rivals.

In an open letter addressed to the EU’s competition policy commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, 14 shopping comparison services from across Europe said that the solution Google put in place, following its big €2.42bn (£2.14bn at the time) fine, has failed to improve things for Google’s competition, perhaps even making things worse. And the group wants the EU to step in to make sure Google gets it right this time.

“It has now been more than a year since Google introduced its auction-based ‘remedy’, and the harm to competition, consumers and innovation caused by Google’s illegal conduct has continued unabated,” the letter reads. “We therefore respectfully urge you to commence non-compliance proceedings against Google.”

In June of last year, following a seven-year investigation into Google Shopping, Vestager ruled that Google had been abusing its power to promote its own shopping service at the top of search results ahead of others and demanded that the tech giant put measures in place to make it an even playing field for rival comparison sites.

In order to comply with the European Commission’s demands, Google made changes to the shopping box displayed at the top of search results, meaning it no longer only featured Google Shopping ad results but also gave other slots for rivals to bid on.

The search giant also agreed to separate its shopping service from its main company and promised that bids from the shopping service would not be paid for by revenue from the its main ad business.

However, the letter states that “As long as placement is determined by auction rather than relevance, it makes little material difference whether competitors occupy none, some, or even all of the available slots. In all cases, Google is the main beneficiary of any profits derived from these entries, and consumers are the main losers”.

The letter goes on to claim that few rival companies have chosen to participate in comparison shopping service (CSS) auctions because “a pay-for-placement auction is fundamentally incompatible with the concept of comparison shopping” and the “antithesis of relevance-based search results”. It also accuses Google of populating its solution with fake comparison shopping services.

In response to the letter, Google said: “We allow all comparison shopping services to compete equally to show product ads from merchants on Google's Search results page.

“To help drive awareness amongst merchants who are unfamiliar with these new opportunities, we're currently offering incentives for them to work with comparison shopping services. One year on, both services that existed before the remedy and services that are new to comparison shopping are participating successfully.”