The story, which Mitra is sharing publicly for the first time, reflects Google’s never-ending battle against scams, a fight that requires engineers and their increasingly sophisticated machine learning tools. It also illustrates the risks that consumers face as Google aggressively tries to win back product searches from Amazon and stay relevant in the future of e-commerce.
Although Google Shopping may look like a marketplace, it really isn’t. Amazon and eBay operate shopping platforms that connect sellers with buyers and offer protections like money-back guarantees. Google, by contrast, sends shoppers off its site after they click on an item, and thus has no visibility into what happens after the transaction.
Nor does Google take responsibility for scams. If you order something from a sketchy website you found through Google Shopping and don’t pay through a service like PayPal, which has its own robust fraud checks, you’re likely out of luck.
Like Google’s dominant search engine, Google Shopping is an advertising site. If you want a new camera, a pair of Comme des Garçons sneakers or a sequin backpack, and you start your search on Google, you’ll be greeted with a big, scrollable list of ads. If you then click on Google’s “Shopping” tab, you’ll be directed to a more robust page where you can search products by price, color, or size. If you didn’t notice the little “Sponsored” messages tag in the corner, you might not recognize all these listings as advertisements.