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How Google’s Push for Universal Product Identifiers Will Forever Change the Commerce Game

Product information is both complex and constantly evolving, creating a state of chaos in commerce with both businesses and consumers wading through a sea of mismatched and piecemeal information. In response, Google announced that starting today, it will start disapproving submitted products that don’t have a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN).

For retailers, this means that if you submit products to Google for Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs), you’ll need to hop on the GTIN wagon or risk your products not being advertised within Google Search, YouTube and other partner sites.

Addressing an Urgent Need

While the GTIN requirement by Google aims to address the need for structured and consistent product information specifically for the ad space, it is also a much-needed step forward for the world of commerce overall. As consumers continue to use more smart, connected devices and apps, the need for consistent product information extends far beyond the advertising domain. Consumers need to know definitively what a product is, along with who made it, who’s selling it, what it costs and what its key attributes are.

Until now, retailers and brands have been able to advertise their products by providing whatever limited product information they had, mostly through using human actors who could fill in the blanks or ignore inaccurate information. However, with more algorithms, artificial intelligence agents and bots powering everything from product discovery, search, recommendation and personalization, having limited, unstructured or inconsistent product information is no longer acceptable.

Standardization and Consistency of Data

Some product categories like books (with ISBNs) and consumer product goods (with UPCs) were early champions for standardization and consistency in data, which allowed them to successfully participate and benefit when new commerce models like ecommerce and mobile commerce took hold. These categories also typically have good coverage for identifiers since their manufacturers and retailers all saw the value in that information prior to online commerce.

However, this kind of standardization is far from the norm. It’s time for all product categories to reach the same levels of structure, consistency, and organization. Enforcement of GTINs is a great start and will hopefully motivate brands, marketplaces, and retailers to raise their standards for product information unification.

The Role of GTINs in Structured Data

GTINs continue to dominate as one of the most reliable structured data elements that can be used by both human and non-human actors within commerce to make the discovery, comparison, matching and identification of products easier. As commerce use cases are further machine-enabled, these universal identifiers will only grow in significance.

By requiring GTINs, Google is smartly using its dominance in search and advertising to also set itself up for greater success in the overall commerce ecosystem. More and more product searches are already happening on Amazon instead of Google, largely because Amazon enforces rules for how product information goes in and out of its ecosystem.

The Need for Universal Product Identifiers

Supporting and enabling this standard isn’t just smart for retailers, marketplaces and search ad companies, it’s also a great move for brands — even if it is a pain in the short term. Brands are responsible for establishing and conveying universal identifiers (inclusive of GTINs) for each manufactured product. Not using universal identifiers can have significant downstream impacts for these brands and others. These identifiers will not only enable better discovery and sale of the brand’s products through retail channels, but they will also allow brands to get a more comprehensive view across channels for how customers are engaging, interacting, buying and talking about their products.

Last but not least, the consumer will be the ultimate beneficiary of such requirements. Having universal product identifiers will give consumers more novel, personal and relevant ways to discover, compare and buy products — so they can get the products they actually want and need.

While Google’s move to require GTINs is a great first step to filling this larger need, the broader mission should be to create and enable a neutral, worldwide unique product identifier and issuing authority. The need has never been greater and the timing has never been better.

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