In a world with billions of online products it’s of critical importance to know EXACTLY what things are.
Knowing precisely what is being traded is important for everyone in a supply chain. Ecommerce suppliers will want to send customers exactly what they want so they don’t have to go through costly returns processes. Customers will equally want to avoid the disappointment and hassle of returning incorrect products. Most importantly, the search engines (i.e. Google) will want to ensure that they can provide a precise match between what a customer is looking for and what suppliers can offer. This is particularly true for a comparison channel such as Google Shopping where price transparency is key.
In 2002, Froogle was Google’s first attempt at shopping comparison. Unlike all the other price comparison sites, that all used paid submissions, Froogle used the Google spider to harvest product data from ecommerce websites. It then organised them so that product searches helped shoppers to compare products from different suppliers. In 2007 it was reorganised into Google Product Search and then, in 2012 into Google Shopping. Throughout this technology journey, to ensure like-with-like comparisons, Google has faced challenges including:
- Dealing with non-genuine-brand ‘fake’ or ‘equivalent to’ products.
- Dealing with almost identical products from the same manufacturer.
- Dealing with bundled or unbundled products e.g. a power tool with or without the battery.
A key part of the technology journey took place in 2016 when Google decided to adopt the GTIN standard that’s already used in traditional supply chains and commonly referred to as ‘barcode numbers’. Over the past 40 years these GTIN (Global Trade Item Numbers) have become increasingly universal in the way they uniquely identify products in over 150 different countries. Depending on the country / product being sold there is 5 different types of GTIN including:
- UPC (in North America / GTIN-12): 12-digit number (8-digit UPC-E codes should be converted to 12-digit UPC-A codes)
- EAN (in Europe / GTIN-13): 13-digit number
- JAN (in Japan / GTIN-13): 8 or 13-digit number
- ISBN (for books): 13-digit number (ISBN-10 values should be converted to ISBN-13)
- ITF-14 (for multipacks / GTIN-14): 14-digit number
It’s important not to confuse GTINs with MPNs (Manufacturer Part Numbers). MPN’s are defined solely by individual manufacturers and are only unique within that manufacturers own supply chain. If a product has a GTIN number then there is no need to include the MPN data within a Google product feed.
Some products such as original paintings, artisan pottery, or hand-crafted clothing may not have unique identifiers. For these types of products they need to be labelled explicitly in the Google feed as not carrying product identifiers. All other products will have product identification codes and these MUST be used. If you try to label a product as not having a product code when it actually does, Google will disapprove these items or may even suspend your account.
The brand name should also be part of your product feed and may be used by Google to check the accuracy of the GTIN code. If you don’t have a brand for a particular product, you can add your own brand so as to help with your own brand development and promotion.
If you are a manufacturer and wish to sell online but don’t yet have product GTIN’s then apply for them at goo.gl/QTsxQD. There is a sliding scale depending on the size of the company and the number of items you wish to give GTINs to. For example, If your turnover is less than £0.5m with less than 1000 products then the annual licensing cost for the GTIN numbers is £119 with a one-off sign up fee of £79. The form of the GTIN is a character string of up to 14 characters which can be added as a character string to your Google feed data or printed as a barcode on the product packaging to assist with warehousing and fulfilment operations.
If you intend selling products but don’t know what their GTINs are then get help at goo.gl/8stPQO .
GTINs are already mandatory in Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the US. This list is likely to expand rapidly as ecommerce continues to establish itself as the de facto mechanism for trade.
Finally, let’s consider how to leverage this information to give you and your business a competitive advantage. Here are just a few ways:
- Although GTINs should be used universally by those selling via ecommerce, many ecommerce websites are not using GTINs to label all the products they should. Although Google is tolerant to some of the omissions, there is an inevitable move to progressively tighten the rules and progressively enforce their use. If you are using GTINs correctly while your competitors aren’t then you will gain advantage as your competitors progressively lose out on their product visibility (ref: https://goo.gl/3o1yE2).
- Google and Bing use GTINs to tie products together in a structured way – this makes it easier for them to return your listings for relevant search queries. Products that carry GTIN codes are more likely to be seen by more customers – especially those who are precise in the way they search for products.
- Savvy customers will recognise that GTIN-labelled products are less likely to be fakes (ref: https://goo.gl/miiTHv).
- Amazon and eBay now use GTINs to tie together unique products to assist with their own customer search results.
- Websites such as Google, Bing, Amazon and eBay use GTINs as part of their categorisation process. If potential buyers are searching within niche categories then GTIN labelled products are more likely to be visible and, ultimately, more likely to be selected for purchase.
- Many product reviews are getting automatically tied to unique products using GTINs (ref: https://goo.gl/ijt6CV) . These reviews may help signpost customers to your site and will help your own product page conversion ratios.
- As the inevitable process for GTIN labelling proceeds, not having GTINs is increasingly likely to get individual products de-indexed from search engines. As a worst case, this may even lead to an entire feed being banned (ref: https://goo.gl/8stPQO).