googlebot shopping cart cover

Is GoogleBot & “John Smith” Killing Your Abandoned Cart Metric?

Sam Carr

Sam Carr

July 2nd, 2020

Sam obsesses over three things in life: Animals, Films and Marketing. We may have over exaggerated his love for marketing.

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If you run an e-commerce website, then you probably monitor your key performance indicators very closely. Just like any other type of business, finding weaknesses in your funnels and web store can be an easy way to boost your conversion rate and generate more sales.

But what if one of your metrics didn’t change, regardless of what new techniques and strategies you introduced?

For many e-commerce store owners, there is a constant battle to try and decrease their abandoned cart rate. Losing potential customers at the last stage of the funnel can be very demoralizing, especially when you’re spending money on paid ads.

All across the web, many store owners have reported a mystery shopper who adds tens, if not hundreds of products to their basket only to abandon their cart at the last stage.

According to a paywalled article by The Wall Street Journal, this mysterious shopper who goes by the name of John Smith is actually Google!

So why is Google adding items to its shopping cart only to leave a few minutes later? And why is it driving e-commerce owners crazy? Here’s everything you need to know.

Why Is GoogleBot Adding Items To The Shopping Cart?

google shopping basket

For years, the curious case of the mysterious John Smith shopper has been reported on various web forums with owners complaining about the constant barrage of abandoned carts.

For many web store owners, this usually means waking up in the morning to see they’ve had 50 abandoned carts overnight, all from the mysterious John Smith. Here’s an example of what some store owners have been met with from logging into their Shopify store:

john smith abandoned cart

In some cases, many owners thought it was their competitors purposely adding items to their cart to mess up their marketing metrics.

Although this mysterious John Smith regularly left a silicon valley address and Gmail address when filling out shipping details, Google has only recently confirmed that it is in fact them.

But why would Google by annoying every e-commerce owner on the planet for seemingly no reason? Well, there’s actually a pretty simple explanation.

Google actively checks any e-commerce store listed on its Google shopping platform to ensure their displayed prices are accurate. A web store owner might list an item at a certain price, but this often doesn’t include any taxes or shipping charges. In order to get accurate tax and shipping prices, Google has to add the items to the cart and fill out the necessary details.

Of course, once Google has the information, they’re not going to buy the product from the merchant, so they simply leave the site and abandon the cart.

This frustrating event for web store owners is actually a necessity for ensuring that the prices on Google shopping are accurate.

How This Affects Store Owners

abandoned cart metrics

Although Google might need to ensure that advertised prices are accurate on its shopping platform, the consistent crawling of websites can have terrible consequences.

One of the biggest problems is that GoogleBot’s activity skews analytics and many merchants rely on to make marketing decisions. Whether these decisions are related to changing their store’s design, or how much they spend on ads, with GoogleBot skewing them, it could lead to poor decision making.

Before the confirmation that John Smith is indeed Google, many web store owners could have mistaken him for a genuine customer. This means that plenty of resources could have been wasted on him trying to get him back to the website, which brings us onto another problem.

Many modern shopping platforms such as Shopify often come with integrated abandoned cart savers or recovery systems. This usually involves sending emails to the potential customer after they’ve abandoned their cart to remind them that they didn’t complete their purchase.

Since Google was leaving a range of different Gmail addresses as reported in the WSJ article, these fake emails can get web stores in trouble and even damage their “email reputation”. This means that if too many emails bounce when being sent to these fake email addresses, the web store could experience lower email delivery rates.

This knock-on effect could significantly damage the business as any marketing emails, order confirmations or genuine abandoned cart emails would all be sent to the user’s spam folder.

What’s The Solution?

For many store owners, they’re simply fed up with John Smith and the number of abandoned carts he creates. In some cases, many owners have even tried to block him from accessing their site altogether. But this is a terrible idea.

Without Google being able to access your site and check the prices, you won’t be able to run ads on Google’s Shopping platform. If Google is unable to verify and check the prices of your products, then your ads will quickly be disabled. It’s actually mentioned in Google’s terms of service that you must allow Google to crawl your site:

“If the content you submit contains URLs or similar content, you grant Google the right to access, index, cache or crawl the URL(s) and the content available through such URL(s), or any portion thereof. For example, Google may utilize an automated software program to retrieve and analyze the websites associated with such URL(s).”

With so many store owners feeling the wrath of John Smith, surely there is a way to keep store owners happy while Google scrapes the necessary information?

One solution could be if Google worked closely with shopping platforms such as Shopify and BigCommerce to automatically filter out these crawling attempts. Not only would that stop these platforms trying to send abandoned cart emails, but it would also stop skewing the metrics and alerting store owners.

Unfortunately, at the moment, it looks like store owners will have to grit their teeth and welcome John Smith with open arms or face being removed from Google Shopping altogether.

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