All About Google’s GTIN Update and How it will Affect Retailers

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right? Wrong. Especially, if you plan to sell the said rose online. Gone are the days when retailers could use their creativity to name and sell mass produced products in their online store. In today’s highly standardized world, including a ‘GTIN’ with every product you sell online can mean the difference between making a sale or disappearing into the internet’s deep, dark oblivion.

What is this GTIN?

GTIN is short for Global Trade Item Number, an umbrella term used to describe commonly used product identifier mechanisms, such as:

GTINs are numerical identifiers assigned to SKUs by the manufacturer through an application and registration process made possible through organizations such as GS1. A GTIN is a ‘thumbprint’ for SKUs – each SKU has a unique GTIN.

Traditionally, GTINs have allowed any entity involved in the manufacture, transportation, or selling of physical products to optimize their business and streamline operations between different parts of the supply chain.

Why is GTIN important to Google

While Google does manufacture and sell a few physical products (Nest, Chromecast, etc.), that collection of businesses is insignificant when compared to its core business. Google sells clicks. And to further its dominance in that business, Google must continuously find ways to sell more and higher quality clicks. Both of these things are accomplished by providing ever-more relevant content to its users whenever they search for something.

For the Shopping unit of Google’s ad business, requiring advertisers to submit standardized and structured data – such as GTINS – in product feeds to the Google Merchant Center/Content APIs allows Google to better-tailor SERPs to a user’s search query.

GTIN: The Story So Far

In mid-2015, Google started requiring all sellers who used its Google Shopping Campaigns to use GTINs in their product data for all SKUs across 50 handpicked brands.

This meant that if you sold Adidas running shoes on your website and wanted to promote them via Google Shopping Campaigns WITHOUT a GTIN, Google would be free to ‘disapprove’ that specific SKU. In other words, that SKU would not be served up in any Google Shopping auction, which means somebody else is getting the sale.

The New GTIN Update

In early February 2016, Google expanded this GTIN update to include all products that have a GTIN assigned by the original manufacturers by May 16th. Sellers of these products have the next few months to modify their product feeds to ensure they comply with this GTIN requirement for all their SKUs before the requirement becomes mandatory.

How: There are a few tools on the internet that provide a means to find GTINs, one SKU at a time, for free – e.g. the Google Merchant Center. If your product feed to Google contains more than a few hundred SKUs without GTINs, this approach becomes tedious. For product feeds with larger GTIN gaps there services like Semantics3 provide match rates of varying percentages.

Having said that, the best source of GTINs is always from data that merchants already have inside their organization. GTINs are standard requirement for listing and selling products on many retailer and marketplace sites including Amazon, eBay, and among others. Here are some ways to find them:

  1. From your supply chain system– These identifiers are used to manage products in the supply chain, so chances are, you already use them in your warehousing, inventory or fulfillment systems. Pull GTIN data from these systems into your shopping feeds to meet Google’s requirement.
  2. From the products in your inventory– GTINs are available on the packaging of the products being sold. Simply include the number located below the bar code in your feed and you’re good to go.
  3. From your drop ship suppliers – If you do not directly hold the inventory you list on Google, relying on a drop ship partner instead; you can ask your drop ship supplier to add GTINs to the product data they share with you.

When: The new GTIN requirement will go into effect on May 16th 2016. Post this date, all non-GTIN compliant products will be automatically ineligible to serve in Google Shopping auctions.

Where: All sellers in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland will be required to comply.

Inclusions: If a product is being sold as new and there is more than one entity with that specific SKU in a product feed to Google, such SKUs will need a GTIN if a GTIN had been registered by the manufacturer.

Exclusions: Private label, custom, vintage or handcrafted items that do not have a GTIN issued by the manufacturer will not be impacted by this change. Sellers of used items can include the relevant product GTINs to improve their ad performance if they so desire, however they will not be required to do so as a necessity.

Long-term Impact of the GTIN Mandate

Nothing Google does is without a direct impact on its vast array of advertisers. With this new GTIN update, Google is affirming the importance of data quality, which as we have learnt from experience contributes towards retailers’ bottom lines in more ways than one.

Impact #1: Product Data Quality Will Determine Eventual Conversions

A greater emphasis on product data quality means all online sellers – retailers, brands, distributors – will now have to invest significant time and resources in cleaning up and rationalizing their product feeds. Only sellers whose products satisfy Google’s GTIN requirements will even feature on product ads, the rest will be automatically disqualified. Without the exposure that Google’s vast network offers advertisers, traffic and subsequently conversions will potentially take a hit. This will especially sellers with poor data quality.

Focusing on data quality as a driving factor when first developing your product feed avoids these retrospective troubles. DemandStream is an example of a solution that allows sellers to build robust, consistent and  compliant product catalogs and product feeds from scratch.

Impact #2: Google, following Amazon’s lead

2015 was the year Amazon established its dominance over US e-commerce, claiming over a quarter of all e-commerce sales for the year. With this new move, we see Google recognizing one of the key aspects that make Amazon the undisputed leader in the e-commerce business – product data quality. The GTIN mandate is a clear step towards upping the quality and usability of Google’s product data, transforming its product advertising capabilities into a true online marketplace.

This is a win-win for shoppers and sellers alike. The former will soon have another avenue to indulge in retail therapy, while the latter will be able to sell more effectively on both Amazon and Google. According to data from Google, sellers who’ve added GTIN to their product data have seen conversions go up by as much as 20%.

Still have questions on what to do to protect your Google Shopping Campaigns? Get in touch with our PPC experts and we’ll help you out.