back to article Comparison sites cry foul over Google Shopping service

Fourteen price comparison sites have written to the EU in Google's longest-running competition case, asking the European Commission (PDF) to rip up the remedy it agreed with Google. bang_648 Google hit with record antitrust fine of €2.4bn by Europe READ MORE The case began after a British startup, Foundem, vanished from …

  1. Ole Juul Silver badge

    dissenting opinion

    "Not only do Google's users inevitably end up paying higher prices for products than they need to, they are often left completely unaware that comparison shopping services even exist,"

    By itself, comparing prices is useless. I do a lot of online shopping and it's mostly from companies that I know to be reliable, and particularly ones that I know will actually send me the goods in a timely manner without hassle and (sometimes considerable) extra cost. Frankly, I think comparison sites just waste my time.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: dissenting opinion

      Upvote for standing up.

      However I do find that comparison sites can be useful in narrowing down the field: typically I check several of them out, draw up a shortlist, and then visit each vendor individually. Never buy through them though (except once when a site was running an exclusive bargain offer from my chosen vendor).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: dissenting opinion

      Lets not forget what happened back before F'em was F'ed.

      Comparison and metasearch sites were a real PITA on Google and other search engines as you couldn't search for any product without the pages being full of sites offering to search for that same product for you using a site of varying quality.

      So any site that was a metasearch engine - i.e. it was links from an original search through to another search engine got penalised in Google search - and the web was genuinely better for it.

      Then F'em with some backers in 'Fair Search' claimed that Google didn't want search competition and so were penalising them unfairly - yes, they were actually saying they were a search engine competitor whose business model relied on their competitor to promote them and they started their lawsuit, very much backed by a few journalists who had a grudge against Google.

      Then Google's shopping comparison site started showing on the search results and the whole thing took a new turn with that now being an EU attack vector and a lot of lobbying on both side proceeded.

      The F'ems want completely free adverts to be available on the Google search site (yes they have said they want them free) and every other company in the world who isn't a meta search must pay for their adverts, anything less is allowing Google to make money out of them.

      Back in the real world companies that want to succeed will spend their time an efforts on their site and brand to become know as the best place to go for their products, whereas F'em is a site that is a pretty crap site that is stuck in the past that devotes nearly all its site real estate to attacking Google - as though that is its new business model(!?). Their hotel comparison page and flight page just complains about Google and yet I'm sure everyone has their favourite engine they usually go to compare these and it won't be Google.

      I'm all for stopping the abuse of a monopoly, but not so much about supporting companies who whinge that life is not fair and they should be given a free ride.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: dissenting opinion

        And as far as metasearches go - when I worked for a company that got an affiliate fee for selling our product, we too blocked most of these meta engines or ones promoting fake offers pretending to undercut the prices of others. We paid good affiliate fees that drove sales to our site by putting effort into reviewing products (Regardless of their review). Any site that expected just to run a web scraping tool or simple affiliate collator with no value added service got removed.

        (Un) surprisingly this din't affect our sales at all.

    3. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: dissenting opinion

      Can't upvote enough. Online sites vary in actual accuracy and ability to deliver.

      I will admit that buying US made goods in the EU often it's cheaper to buy from the UK and pay the extra shipping, which I hadn't noticed except for certain price comparison sites. Which I found through google shopping.

      For most stuff I buy, paying an extra 10-20 quid so I buy it and get it once, and don't have to return or replace it or chase up the supplier it's worth it.

    4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: dissenting opinion

      By itself, comparing prices is useless.

      Concur. This is not local government procurement, I am neither obliged, nor have the intention to use the cheapest service.

      I will pay a reasonable premium if I know that the goods will turn up in time, will be what they are supposed to be and most importantly will be accepted back if there are dead-on-arrival or warranty issues.

      I have long learned that real-time application of local optimization leads to a sub-optmial global optimization solution. In fact optimal control theory says exactly this for a large class of problems.

      Sites which live off the fact that stupid people are incapable of comprehending that bit of math are not welcome. Good bye, good riddance and Google should follow them too.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Third-party sites were bidding for those slots against Google, whose own bids cost nothing"

    This doesn't make sense. If Google outbids everybody else for a slot, they are losing out what the second bidder would have given them. It's like saying that somebody selling a house can unfairly outbid all buyers by deciding not to sell it.

    As even the complaint explains, Google even penalize their own bids: If a merchant offers to pay Google €1, Google will only bid 80¢ for the slot. Any CSS accepting a margin of less than 20% can undercut that bid. Because yes, CSS have exactly the same business model: They sell to merchants clicks that they buy from Google. The only difference they can claim is that they put their ads in a different order.

    And Foundem can say all they want about "genuine comparison shopping services" choosing not to participate to Google's program. At this point, they are an SCO-like hull, existing only in the hope of receiving a big payout from a lawsuit. Kelkoo, which is what I would call a genuine comparison shopping service, did not sign the letter.

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "This doesn't make sense. If Google outbids everybody else for a slot, they are losing out what the second bidder would have given them. It's like saying that somebody selling a house can unfairly outbid all buyers by deciding not to sell it."

      You don't get it. Google never wanted to sell the house. So it values it as eleventy quadrillion pounds, then gets no bidders. Oh well, guess I will just have to run this shopping channel on my own then, says Google. Competition eliminated.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Google never wanted to sell the house. So it values it as eleventy quadrillion pounds, then gets no bidders.

        Read again the complaint: Google only bids if they have a merchant willing to pay for that slot; and they only bid 80% of what the merchant is willing to pay. They commit themselves to have at least 20% profit margin, precisely because otherwise they could undercut the competition by bidding without margin or even at loss.

        In other words, if a merchant is willing to pay €1 for the slot, and offers that €1 to both Google and a price comparison engine, then all the price comparison engine has to do is bid 81¢ and they get the slot. This is Google saying "I know I can sell this house for £1 million, but anybody who offers more than £800k can have it"

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Simple Solution

    "Foundem argued that an oversubscribed auction obliges participants to bid away their potential profit."

    Simple solution..sell it on Amazon!

    Oh, wait!

  4. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    FairSearch !!

    Counsel for FairSearch, which represents the sites Naspers and Oracle.

    The sole legal control and the majority of the funding for FairSearch comes from Oracle and Naspers.

    (See https://www.politico.eu/article/oracle-naspers-fairsearch-google-lobbying-europe-antitrust-android-competition-margrethe-vestager/ for details.)

  5. druck
    Unhappy

    No better than spammers

    Let's not forget these comparison sites were no better than spammers, polluting search results with pages of links to utterly useless pages. They needed de-ranking for everyone's sanity, and the EU should not be forcing any search engine to let them back in the top results.

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: No better than spammers

      Amen to that. I remember when these poor, hard-done-by comparison sites were given free reign to pollute Google search results. No matter what term you searched for, the first page would be a morass of links offering "Buy $SEARCHTERM here! Best prices on $SEARCHTERM!".

      Good riddance.

      Usual Brussels approach, though... if it's successful, tax and regulate it. If it's failing, subsidize it.

  6. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Good riddance

    These stupid sites are always the first page of search results, and never have any information of value. I will cheer the day that they disappear.

    This week I finally gave up on Google search. It had been years since they returned useful results even half of the time. Right now I'm giving Bing a spin, and don't find it too bad.

    It's really sad how almost all Google products started out as lovely useful tools, but have now deteriorated into cluttered, clumsy mish-mashes of useless "features" and vendor lock-in.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good riddance

      Microsoft were one of the early members of Fairsearch giving them a lot of funding. Although they have now left and left it to the likes of others to carry it on, they may have stirred such a hornets nest to make Google less useful that their original aim of getting more people to use Bing may still be working.

  7. Giovani Tapini
    Stop

    "Price Comparison" sites are not always consumer friendly either

    They range from ad-spamming relinking sites, to shills, to pay to get listed models. Even relatively well behaved sites like u-switch have in the past been caught out for not providing a level playing field.

    Insurance companies put different prices on comparison sites than they do to direct customer too, for example.

    The whole area is a minefield for non-savvy consumers, and even if google provided no shopping service at all I am certain that this would be engineered into becoming a google issue anyway. Why are you listing site shilledprices.com over clickbaitcomparisons.com when the direct supplier with the lowest price is 10 rows down the list.

    As far as I am concerned this action is just one fragment of a wider issue which will simply result in a differently confused proposition for consumers.

  8. FXi

    Fines aren't enough to deter the bad behavior

    The EU should immediately double the fines they have levied for bad behavior. Apparently the previous fines were not enough to deter future acts. And apparently Alphabet just hasn't gotten the message.

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