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The Current CSS Landscape

Comparison Shopping Services (CSS) have created plenty of noise in the online retail space during 2018. Whether an agency, retailer or consumer, most have encountered the change in the Google Shopping market through seeking the reward incentives for their own financial gain or have discovered through plain curiosity in the way the text under the adverts now look.

Google Shopping screenshot with cycling helmets

For those who require a refresher, Google was hit with a 2.4 billion euro fine back in June 2017 and the market was challenged to drastically evolve to enable more competition and provide other CSS providers better access to the Google Shopping market. Retailers and agencies could continue to place their ads via Google or access the incentivised programme via another CSS such as Productcaster. As well as gaining a saving of up to 20% on Cost Per Click (CPC) activity, Google also introduced an incentive programme, SpendMatch, that rebates online merchants up to 30% of their shopping ad budget as cashback.

Google Shopping: Analysis and Market Overview

Global search and online visibility experts, Searchmetrics, analysed the current market situation around Google Shopping following their initial report back in January 2018. They specifically viewed the change in landscape in the UK and Germany, analysing what impact CSS had on the shopping market, how the proportion of Google ads vs. competitor ads had changed, and which product comparison pages were most frequently found in the shopping units. The most recent report also analysed the French market.

Using their expertise, they analysed a robust keyword set and reviewed each of the three Google indexes on four separate dates in autumn 2018.

The Findings

Although the market has changed, as expected Google themselves are still heavily present in all three markets analysed. The graph below also indicates around a third of shopping ads are provided by competitor CSSs, with Google Shopping still maintaining two thirds of the market in the UK, Germany and France.

Searchmetrics Google Shopping Analysis
Image: Searchmetrics Google Shopping Analysis and Market Overview Report

In the January 2018 report, which analysed only the UK and German markets, the study found that CSSs were majorly unrepresented in the Product Listing Ads (PLAs). In the UK only 0.4%, and in Germany only 2%, occupied the prime shopping spots. Fast forward to present day and what is evident is the large increase with 32% visibility in the UK, 33% in Germany, and for the first time analysed, France with 31%.

Searchmetrics CSS market share
Searchmetrics Report: Comparison of market share of competitor CSSs: January 2018 vs December 2018

When it came to looking at who was taking a lead out of all 132 Google CSS Partners (as of 12th December 2018) in the three markets, Productcaster appears more than any other CSS, topping the board in France and coming a close second in the UK.

Top 3 CSS providers by market
Top 3 CSS providers by market

The UK displays the largest CSS diversity of all three markets, with the top four competitors owning at least 10% of all CSS ads, compared to Germany and France where only three competitors own 10%.
Over in France, Productcaster dominates the market with almost double the amount of CSS ads of its nearest competitor at 29%. “Traditional” price comparison sites such as Kelkoo and Twenga, although present, do not have the same substantial impression share.

Top 10 External CSS Providers
Top 10 external CSS providers

What’s Next for CSS?

Over the last 12 months the most significant change is the number and diversity of CSS appearing in Google Shopping. Productcaster’s own research has shown an increase week on week since our tracking in early July, when only 36 CSS partners were live, in comparison to the 132 live in December today.
However, Google announced this week that, as of the 31st January 2019, the requirements for the CSS program will change. All sites must meet the following criteria to continue to participate in Shopping ads:

The CSS website must offer sorting or filtering options of product search results by price and at least one other dimension that is relevant for consumers (for example brand, merchant, shipping time).

CSS sites must show offers from at least 50 distinct merchant domains for every country in which they target Shopping ads. CSSs will be asked to self-certify by January 31, 2019 that they have offers from at least 50 distinct merchant domains per country on their site (Google will be providing a tool for self-certification in late January). These must be merchants that ship products to the respective country, meaning consumers in that country can buy from them. Google will conduct checks and may ask CSSs to provide evidence that they meet this requirement.

What does this mean for the market as we head into 2019? The market will continue to consolidate, and the CPCs will likely to become more competitive as a result. It is therefore more important now than ever to choose a CSS partner whom focuses on serving the customer first but one that also continuously develops through times of change.

You can read more about the report and download Searchmetrics Google Shopping 2018 on their blog.