In Wake of Antitrust Case, Google Search Revamp Efforts Bear Fruit For Rivals

Google’s efforts to comply with a European Union (EU) ruling, to “level “ the competitive playing field, seem to be gaining traction, according to some early data. Reuters noted that “it is too early to judge” the internet giant’s reforms that are tied to online commerce at least in terms of how everything will play out.

Even this early in the game, there are some signs that some rivals are already seeing some benefits, cited by European Competition Commission Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. The newswire reported earlier this week that, as noted by Vestager, some stats showed improved visibility of those same rivals, especially in the form of increased clicks.

The commissioner said at a parliamentary hearing: “We know from our monitoring there’s been a steady increase in the numbers over the last few months.”

The most recent figures show some mollification of concerns lobbed by opponents.  As the commissioner’s findings show, at least one Google “rival appears in about one-third of new shopping boxes as compared to 15 percent of the shopping boxes back in March.” Click share also got a leg up. Rivals’ products in Google shopping boxes also increased from 2.5 percent in February to 6.1 percent in the latest findings.

“It’s still too early to draw conclusions. We will continue our active monitoring and talk to market participants,” Vestager said.

To recap, the proposals and actions by Google in the wake of a record fine levied by the European Commission  to the tune of $2.8 billion  seek to comply with mandates that the company create a more level playing field across search results in any number of verticals. Some rivals have said that Google’s search tweaks, which allow those same competitors to bid for ads and appear closer to the top of search pages, do not go far enough.

The company faces some stiff penalties in the face of any determination by the EU that competition is in fact stifled. Stiff … as in the company may have to pay as much as 5 percent of its top line, as measured in average daily terms. That’s a tough pill to swallow, should it come to pass. Then again, we might surmise that Google will do everything it can to comply, which then sets the stage for the EU to wield enormous power. That power could extend far beyond clicks, turnover, fines and headlines.

As noted in this space by PYMNTS’ Karen Webster, big tech firms have been in regulatory crosshairs, with an idea that “what is best for the consumer” should be a mantra devoutly followed. However, “what is best” is being determined by commission and comes even in the absence of tangible consumer complaints. The complaints have come from the merchant side of the equation (and note, the mantra is not “protect the merchant”), where several small sites said in a volley, which began eight years ago, that Google Shopping’s algorithms put those companies at a disadvantage when it came (and, according to some of them, still comes) to consumers searching for goods and services they want.

The argument is one tied to economics, of course, as some of these smaller players have stated that they do not have the marketing budget to pay for the ads that would place them a bit more prominently on the hierarchy of search displays. Some firms, like Yelp, have been vocal in their protestations over Google’s actions.

Yet, the commissioner’s numbers, as noted above show, some traction in Google’s efforts. The battleship turns, slowly, but surely.