It’s more than a year ago now since the EU levied Google with a €2.3 billion fine for what regulators saw as uncompetitive antitrust practices on the Shopping ads platform.
At the time – and this is still true to a large extent – there was a great deal of wrangling and back and forth between Google and the EU over the decision. More than a year on, Google has made some noticeable, though perhaps reluctant, changes to its approach.
Whether the changes made will be enough to satisfy EU regulators or not remains to be seen, but Google does seem to be taking action in the wake of the furore.
Back in June 2017, the EU ruled that Google favoured its own content – in the form of ads – over that of competitors. The ‘competitors’ in this case were price comparison sites, who Google had previously locked out of advertising on the Shopping ads platform. It was also a concern for the EU regulators that Google wouldn’t show Shopping ads from more direct competitors like Amazon and Bing.
At the time, Google was bullish about the matter, vowing to review the decision and appeal if necessary. Zip forward just over a year, and it seems the search engine has taken a different tack.
As of now, it seems that the EU decision has at least gone some way towards having the desired effect.
Speaking in June, European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said that there had been a “steady increase” in the volume of Shopping search ads originating from Google competitors. Now, at least a third of shopping slots seem to go to rival products – up from the 15% observed in March of 2018.
At the same time, the overall click shares rival products receive has grown from 2.5% in February of this year to 6.1%.
In response to the fine and the EU’s demands, Google created a new ad spot auction system to enable competitors to bid alongside Google’s shopping unit. Many comparison sites, however such as Kelkoo.com were saying earlier in the year that it still seemed as if very few rival ads were actually winning ad spaces. It’s still unknown if the above improvements will quell this sentiment.
The EU is taking an inscrutable stance on the changes Google has made thus far, with Vestager saying, “We have taken no decision, neither on one side to say that this is fine, nor to the other to say, ‘no, it’s not.’”
Where this leaves Google is anyone’s guess, and it’s hard to know if the search engine giant will feel the need to make any further adjustments or improvements in the Shopping ads arena.