And the mystery online shopper is…Google

Online shoppers abandoning the checkout is nothing new. But a certain 'John Smith' is a prolific, repeat offender.
Google Shopping Bot 'John Smith abandoning carts

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) ran a story this week that a mystery shopper has been causing havoc with ecommerce sites – and lots of them.

The culprit, ‘John Smith’, has left items worth £1,000’s in abandoned online shopping baskets over the past 12-months. One retailer claims that over 3-days, John Smith abandoned 17 shopping baskets.

Though heated discussions about John Smith have been ongoing on many ecommerce forums for some time, WSJ is the first major publication to identify the mystery shopper as Google.

Well, one of Google’s crawler bots to be specific; the one tasked with policing advertisers that are running Google Shopping campaigns.

This behaviour skews the web data that ecommerce analysts rely on to optimise their checkout process and product promotions. Some retailers have had to explain to their email-hosting providers why so many of their abandoned basket auto-emails are bouncing back as undeliverable.

Google Shopping, introduced in 2002, is a way for businesses to promote products for sale on Google in response to search queries. It’s the platform that delivers the product images and pricing that appear in the search results when the search query is relevant to an advertiser’s product.

To ensure advertisers play fair, the product price must be the same in the feed submitted to Google, displayed in the advert, and on the destination product page. If it doesn’t, Google will disapprove that product listing.

One of the jobs of the shopping bot is to crawl product pages and pull the prices so this cross-checking can take place. Google has gone one step further by getting the bot (aka John Smith) to add products to the shopping cart to check that pricing remains the same throughout.

Unfortunately, if you’re responsible for your website’s ecommerce analytics, there’s nothing you can do about it other than be aware of it. Google Ads T&Cs demand their bots have access to your site.

“Welcome back, Mr Smith.”

Main image credit: Kristina Flour


Andy Dawson
Andy Dawson

MD of blue snapper; digital marketing & ecommerce consultant; musician

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