Eric Saltfold has been selling bikes since 1977 when at age 13 he moved into his parents’ barn in Minnesota in 1977 to sell refurbished bikes. In those days, all it took was word of mouth and a handcrafted roadside sign to attract customers.
Today, it relies heavily on Google to attract bike enthusiasts to its 33 brick-and-mortar stores in eight Midwest states and its e-commerce site. EriksBikeShop.com. In particular, it places ads on Google Shopping that include a product image, description, and price. It also uses Google’s local inventory feature that allows it to show its inventory to consumers searching for bikes near its stores, helping to direct traffic to those locations, which make up 85% of its income.
This baffles me. It is their policy that Google Shopping not be used to advertise any e-bike.
Google Shopping ads play a huge role in their online sales. Says Saltfold, owner of Erik’s Bike Shop Inc. 20% of his website’s revenue comes from Google Shopping ads. Another 3% come from similar shopping ads on the Bing search engine, he says
But now he has a problem: Google Shopping blocks ads for e-bikes with speeds greater than 15.5 miles per hour. Saltfold and other bike industry executives say this includes virtually all e-bikes for sale in the US, and the 15.5 mph limit is based on the European standard. He limits e-bikes to 25 kilometers per hour, which equates to 15.5 miles per hour.
However, since 2002, the US government has allowed the use of e-bikes with speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. Now, the federal standard and those in 38 states allow three classes of e-bikes, including Class III e-bikes, designed for the highway, that can travel up to 28 miles per hour. Class I and II bikes are designed for bike paths and trails.
“I’m baffled by it,” says Saltfold, who says all e-bikes sold in the US go up to 20 mph because that’s what American drivers expect. “Its policy prohibits the use of Google Shopping to advertise any e-bike. I don’t understand why they have adopted a policy that effectively goes against US standards.”
Google sticks to European speed limits for e-bikes
Saltfold reached out to bicycle industry advocacy group and trade association PeopleForBikes a few years ago, and was unable to get an explanation of Google’s policy. It did so after the tech giant threatened to shut down its Google Shopping account because its e-bikes were too fast for Google.
PeopleForBikes contacted Google CEO Jason Szcic, according to Larry Bizzi. Pizzi is the chief commercial officer of bike manufacturer Alta Cycling Group LLC and chair of the PeopleforBikes e-bikes subcommittee.
Szczech, whose current Google title is Shopping Ads Go-To-Market Lead II, was initially sympathetic to the industry’s argument that Google should have a different base for the North American market, where retailers could legally sell faster bikes, according to Pizzi. But Google eventually stuck to the European minimum.
“They chewed on that for a while and came back to us and said, ‘No, it’s been decided we need a global policy. As the market is more mature in Europe, we will comply with European regulations,’ recalls Pizzi.
Szczech relayed the news in an email to Pizzi who said: “Unfortunately, after much discussion and review of the appropriate documentation, the decision has remained the same and the policy will continue to include a 15.5mph limit. Much of the same reasoning still applies. I apologize for not Having a more desirable outcome to share.”
Google declined to make Szczech available to comment on this article.
Some e-bike sellers have sought to circumvent Google’s rule by not including the top speed of their e-bikes in their product descriptions. But Google recently tightened its policy by requiring that the speed limit be included in the product title or description.
A Google spokesperson told Digital Commerce 360 via email: “We’ve allowed the promotion of bikes with motors at speeds of no more than 15.5 mph for years. This policy has not changed. To improve transparency, our recent update requires advertisers who promote e-bikes Disclosure of speed limits to consumers in advertising and on the landing page.
Although Google said the policy will take effect in June, a 360 digital commerce audit of e-bike ads on Google Shopping shows that most ads ignore e-bike speed.
Does Google enforce its advertising policies consistently?
Saltfold says he stopped advertising e-bikes on Google Shopping for six months a few years ago when Google threatened to shut down his account. But then he responded when he saw that Google was not applying the rule against competitors who advertise e-bikes at speeds above 15.5 mph.
“One of the reasons for the frustration is that it’s really the only place that can draw a lot of attention to our website,” he says. “This is a big part of our e-commerce strategy.”
He is not the only person. Google Shopping ads made up 58% of paid Google ad clicks in the last quarter of 2021, according to digital marketing agency Merkle Inc. Bing doesn’t have a similar rule, but Saltfold says it doesn’t drive a lot of traffic to its websites. Trade site. Saltfold also says he’s frustrated that Google doesn’t seem to consistently apply its judgment.
“We don’t do anything that thousands of other retailers don’t,” he says.
Given the recent Google policy update and the backlash from e-bike retailers like Saltfold, Bizzi said his subcommittee will review Google’s policy, although he notes that it has many other priorities. For its part, Google stated through its spokesperson, “We always evaluate government regulations and guidance, including global and regional variations, when developing our policies. Consumer safety is our priority, and we will provide ample notice through the Help Center and changelog if there are any future changes.” on these or other policies.
Google’s stance on e-bike ads comes at a time when American consumers are buying more electrified cars. US imports of e-bikes from the Light Electric Vehicle Consortium more than tripled, from about 250,000 in 2019 to about 790,000 in 2021.
Pizzi of PeopleForBikes claims that nearly all e-bikes sold in the United States are imported. He says many e-bike sales estimates don’t account for direct manufacturers’ sales in online marketplaces like Amazon. Calculating these sales, it is estimated that American consumers now purchase 1.1 million e-bikes annually.
Sales of e-bikes at Erik’s Bike Shop have certainly been growing — at 80% to 100% per year in recent years, Saltfold says. This leaves bike retailers and brands wondering how they can advertise their e-bikes without being exposed to Google.
There are many strategies, says Jonathan Mendes, managing director of Markacy, a digital marketing agency.
“If they want to continue selling on Google Shopping, they could advertise e-bike accessories like helmets,” Mendes says. Once a customer clicks on it, the landing page can include links to their e-bikes. If the accessories are properly formatted, they can also appear in searches for e-bikes.
Retailers and brands can also advertise on TV and social media. Apparently, the Google Shopping policy does not apply to Google text ads or YouTube owned by Google. These marketing channels remain open.
He notes that Google has often imposed restrictions on advertisers, for example on alcohol, tobacco and health-related products, and that Google’s policies sometimes lag behind government regulations.
Mendez says the e-bike rule looks like “oversight from Google that is likely to be reversed, especially if more retailers and manufacturers complain until the issue reaches the right people at Google, and most likely its lawyers.”
Only retailers like Saltfold can hope he’s right.
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