Erik Saltvold has been selling bikes since 1977 when at the age of 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 handmade roadside sign to attract customers.
Today, it relies heavily on Google to attract bike enthusiasts to its 33 brick-and-mortar stores in eight Midwestern states and its e-commerce site. EriksBikeShop.com. In particular, it places ads on Google Shopping which includes a product’s image, description and price. It also uses Google’s local inventory feature that allows it to show what it has in stock to consumers looking for bikes near its stores, which helps drive traffic to those locations, which make up 85% of his income.
This baffles me. Their policy would prevent the use of Google Shopping to advertise any e-bike.
And Google Shopping ads play a big role in its online sales. Saltvold, owner of Erik’s Bike Shop Inc., says 20% of his website’s revenue comes from Google Shopping ads. Another 3% comes from similar shopping ads on the Bing search engine, he says
But now he has a problem: Google Shopping is banning ads for e-bikes that go over 15.5 miles per hour. Saltvold and other bike industry executives say that includes virtually all e-bikes on sale in the United States. The 15.5 mph limit is based on the European standard. It limits e-bikes to 25 kilometers per hour, which is equivalent to 15.5 miles per hour.
However, since 2002 the US government has permitted the use of e-bikes going 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 highways, 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 that,” says Saltvold, who says all e-bikes sold in the United States go up to 20 miles per hour because that’s what American bikers expect. “Their policy would prohibit using Google Shopping to advertise any e-bike. I don’t understand why they would adopt a policy that effectively contradicts the American standard. »
Google sticks to European speed limit for e-bikes
Saltvold approached the bicycle industry advocacy group and trade association PeopleForBikes a few years ago, he couldn’t 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 exceeded the speed allowed by Google.
PeopleForBikes contacted a Google executive, Jason Szczech, according to Larry Pizzi. Pizzi is chief commercial officer of bicycle manufacturer Alta Cycling Group LLC and chairman of the PeopleforBikes e-bike subcommittee.
Szczech, whose current title at Google is Shopping Ads Go-To-Market Lead II, was initially sympathetic to the industry’s argument that Google should have a different rule for the North American market, where retailers can legally sell faster bikes, according to Pizzi. But Google ultimately stuck to the lower European limit.
“They chewed on that for a while and came back to us and said, ‘No, it’s been decided that we need a global policy. And because the market is so much more mature in Europe, we will comply with European regulations,” recalls Pizzi.
Szczech passed on the news in an email to Pizzi who said: “Unfortunately, after much discussion and review of the appropriate documents, the decision has remained the same and the policy will continue to include the 15.5 mph limit. Much of the same logic still applied. My apologies that I don’t have a more desired 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 maximum speed of their e-bikes in their product descriptions. But Google recently tightened its policy by requiring that the maximum speed be included in the product title or description.
A Google spokesperson told Digital Commerce 360 via email: “We have allowed the promotion of motorized bicycles with speeds no greater than 15.5 mph for years. This policy has not changed. To improve transparency, our recent update requires advertisers promoting e-bikes to disclose the speed limit to consumers in the ad and on the landing page.
Although Google said the policy would go into effect in June, a Digital Commerce 360 audit of e-bike ads on Google Shopping shows that most ads omit e-bike speed.
Does Google enforce its advertising policies consistently?
Saltvold 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 he then picked up when he saw that Google was not enforcing the rule against competitors advertising e-bikes that went faster than 15.5 miles per hour.
“One of the frustrations is that it’s really the only place that can get so much attention to our website,” he says. “So that’s a big part of our e-commerce strategy. »
He is not the only one. Google Shopping ads accounted for 58% of paid Google ad clicks in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to digital marketing agency Merkle Inc. Bing doesn’t have a similar rule, but Saltvold says it doesn’t drive as much traffic to their e-commerce site. Saltvold also says he’s frustrated that Google doesn’t seem to enforce its rule consistently.
“We don’t do anything that a thousand other retailers don’t,” he says.
Due to Google’s recent policy update and the backlash from e-bike retailers like Saltvold, Pizzi said his subcommittee will review Google’s policy, although he notes it has many other priorities. For its part, Google said through its spokesperson, “We always evaluate government regulations and guidelines, including global and regional variations, when developing our policies. Consumer safety is our priority, and we will provide ample notice through our Help Center and changelog if there are any future changes to this or other policies.
Google’s stance on e-bike advertising comes as US consumers buy more electrified vehicles. The Light Electric Vehicle Association U.S. imports of e-bikes more than tripled, from about 250,000 in 2019 to about 790,000 in 2021.
PeopleForBikes’ Pizzi claims that virtually all e-bikes sold in the United States are imported. He says many e-bike sales estimates don’t count direct manufacturer sales on online marketplaces like Amazon. Counting those sales, he estimates that US consumers now buy 1.1 million e-bikes a year.
E-bike sales are certainly growing for Erik’s Bike Shop — at around 80% to 100% annually in recent years, Saltvold says. This leaves retailers and bike brands wondering how they can advertise their e-bikes without running afoul of Google.
There are several strategies, says Jonathan Mendez, managing director of Markacy, a digital marketing agency.
“If they want to continue selling on Google Shopping, it’s possible to advertise e-bike accessories like helmets,” Mendez says. “And once a customer clicks on it, the landing page can include links to their e-bikes. If formatted correctly, accessories can also show up in e-bike searches.
Retailers and brands can also advertise on television and social media. And, as it seems, the Google Shopping policy does not apply to Google text ads or Google-owned YouTube. These marketing channels remain open.
He notes that Google has often imposed constraints on advertisers, for example on alcohol, tobacco and health-related products, and that sometimes Google’s policies lag behind government regulations.
Mendez says the e-bike rule appears to be “a Google oversight that will most likely be reversed, especially if more retailers and manufacturers complain until the issue reaches the right people at Google, most likely its attorneys.” .
Retailers like Saltvold can only hope he’s right.
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