Who is John Smith and Why is He Abandoning Shopping Carts?


Is John Smith your most hesitant customer? If so, you’re not alone. Recently, many e-commerce sellers on Google Shopping or Merchant Center have noticed the indecisive Smith ditching his shopping cart at the checkout phase.

This week, Google explained why. The truth is, these sellers aren’t failing to close the deal. John Smith is just a GoogleBot.


Mr Smith Exists Only in the (Google) Matrix

“John Smith” is the pseudonymous name of a recent Google effort to get accurate pricing information on Google Shopping or Google Merchant Center. GoogleBots have begun adding items to carts of participating merchants and proceeding to checkout, to ensure the price at checkout is the same as the price given on the product page. Ultimately, merchants risk disapproval of their items if their pricing is inconsistent.


The issue with abandoned carts in Google Shopping

So, GoogleBots are checking for sellers who are gaming the system with dishonest or misleading pricing practices. That sounds all well and good. But do the sellers think?

In reality, a growing chorus of Merchant Center sellers are complaining that Mr Smith’s frequent and fruitless journeys to the event horizon of the conversion funnel are resulting in Analytics issues for abandoned carts.

Google has acknowledged as much. In a statement to Search Engine Land, Google said that GoogleBots’ latest function “sometimes leads to merchants seeing abandoned carts as a result of our system testing the price displayed matches the price at checkout.” They added that they’re working to clarify the difference between automated systems and authentically abandoned carts, so that merchants can make more efficient use of their Analytics data.


Accurate pricing is a major UX touchpoint

Misleading prices on a product listing page—or prices that appear different at checkout—may earn a seller a few extra bucks here and there from buyers too rushed or lazy to abandon their cart at checkout and start their product search all over again. However, the impact on consumer trust and your brand’s reputation will cost you far more in the long-run than you stand to gain. For Google, there’s a larger risk that users will ultimately lose trust in Google Shopping and Merchant Center at large.

The act of throwing in an extra cost at the 11th hour of the buying process is an example of what’s known as “dark pattern” design. Dark pattern design refers to deliberately deceptive or manipulative user experience. These design elements are intended to make users do (or buy) something they wouldn’t ordinarily do (or buy). Two common forms of dark pattern design are hidden costs (delivery, service, installation, or assembly charges, taxes, etc.) and sneaking items into shopping carts.


What are GoogleBots checking for?

Listed below are the issues that Mr Smith seems to be watching for when he adds items to your cart and dashes. Currently, Google is checking for the following:

  • Omission of relevant information
  • Unavailable promotions
  • Misleading or unrealistic promotions
  • Untrustworthy promotions

Can Mr John Smith be blocked from your online premises?

Ultimately, if you want to participate in Google Shopping or in Surfaces across Google, you cannot prevent GoogleBots from crawling your product listings. So, John Smith stays. While you can block Google from your landing pages with robots.txt, this may result in Google disapproving your shopping pages.

For now, it appears merchants on Google Shopping or Merchant Center will need to tolerate occasional bot traffic in their analytics data, so allow for a margin of error when reviewing your abandoned cart metrics. Subscribe to our blog for news if Google announces an update to this process.


Improve your Google Shopping experience

John Smith proves the value of having a knowledgeable SEM professional in your corner. Our SEM team here at Pure SEO can read deep into the hidden messages of your Analytics data to produce campaigns that deliver results. Contact Pure SEO today!

Rollan Schott

Rollan Schott is a copywriter with Pure SEO. Rollan was born and raised in the United States, having moved to New Zealand after 4 years teaching and writing in Asia. When he's not churning out quality content at breakneck speed, Rollan is probably busy writing the next great American novel. He may also be idly watching true crime documentaries in his Auckland Central apartment with his wife, Lauren. The latter is more likely than the former.

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