Google AdWords Invade - Huge Upside or Huge Mistake?

Today (Friday), as I trolled the Old, I was shocked to find the site running Google Adwords campaigns on the bottom of each product category page. I rubbed my eyes and did a double take. Then I noticed it in left column navigation, too.

"Huhhh?" I retorted, out loud.

As a long suffering ecommerce practitioner, I have studied Gap's eCommerce infrastructure (which is shared across Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Pipelime and Athleta).  I understand their model, IA, design and functionality... and I have considered it a category leader with regard to usability and merchandising.  Lately, however, I've felt it getting a bit cluttered...with solicitations for newsletters, cross-site ads, promotions and extra navigation. Their bill payment areas are problematic, suffer from service outages and are not very usable. Now, on top of all this -- they've added Google Ads.. 

I find this intriguing and perplexing on a personal and professional level.

Competitive ads on an eCommerce site?  Isn't it a conflict of interest?  Doesn't it compete with user attention?  Doesn't it violate some cardinal experience rule related to task interruption? Won't it motivate shoppers to go purchase elsewhere? Wouldn't the loss of sales subvert the potential revenue up-side of the advertising?

Evidently not!

Click into just about any category and find a series of text-driven Google Ads under the left-hand navigatoin and at the bottom of the product listing (see magenta arrows above for placement). Click an ad and you'll get a new window corresponding to the ad. The ads are, of course, using Google's contextual targeting technology. Men's Jeans pointed me to Lee, Nordstrom and several other retailers. Womens Plus New Arrivals points to ads for HSN, Nordstom, Avenue and other retailers. Women's Sweaters point to ads for Ann Taylor, JJill, Victoria's Secret and others.

I did some web-based probing. I don't see any articles on the web about this yet. Based on a few spot checks, this is not active on any other Gap property other than Old Navy, yet. I also reached out to @oldnavy on Twitter, waited for response and got nothing. Quickly realizing it does not seem to be Gap's pattern to publicly interact with anyone on Twitter, other than Re-tweeting positive mentions (Boo for that, by the way).  So, I decided to write a post about it.

Last month, Old Navy alone had  2,593,080 unqiue visitors to its subdomain.  That's a nice amount of traffic and equates to a grand number of impressions.  So, maybe the up-side, from a pure revenue perspective, will be worth it.

As a professional who plays in the eCommerce, Digital/Social media and marketing space... I'd love more information that probably falls in the "none of your business" category!  In the end, I am left asking myself what the tradeoff will be, in terms of sales, revenue and relationship?" Maybe people will filter it out - and maybe not. Perhaps Gap Inc. is merely searching for answers. I applaud them for questioning, and wonder:
  • Is this some kind of public test?
  • Did Gap do any lab-based user testing go gauge user reaction, behavior and sentiment?
  • Does Gap anticipate that people actually click these ads?
  • Is Gap concerned the ads might irritate customers?
  • What is the calculated risk of this practice?
  • What's the potential financial up-side of this practice?
  • Is the company doing any analysis of click patterns from these ads?
  • Will these soon appear on,, Piperlime and Banana Republic, too?
Not that I think they will give me any public answers...I mean -- who am I?  Whatever the case, this is a lot more provocative than adding Facebook "like" buttons to product or the home page...

As a consumer... the ads feel disruptive and out of place.  I literally had a "What The Heck?" moment when I noticed them.  I did notice them right away on this visit, but in fairness, I don't know if they have gone unnoticed in previous visits.  I haven't been on the site in at least three weeks.  I weighed my "shopper reaction" and it was negative -- although by clicking an ad out of curiosity, I found Hannah Anderson had some really cute stuff!  Further, I find the AdWords placement adds to the confusion of an increasingly cluttered design, which is the tip of the iceberg with my frustrations over some key areas of the site.  
Perhaps most significantly, I did not make a purchase.

What was I worth on that visit?  Was the loss of a sale worth it? Will the retailer assume I'll go back and buy anyway? I guess the jury is still out.  We'll see if the ads continue...or spread.

(Author note: Shortly after this posting, I @JamieHolzinger pointed out that Target is using Google AdWords, too (scroll down to see ads, as well as full banner ads for large brands). I haven't checked out Target online in awhile, so I hadn't picked up on this. Despite much Googling, I'm also having trouble locating articles about this.  So - we may be on to a new trend here. The question is whether it will be good for shoppers or not).

But now for the most important question:

What do you think?  Does the ad placement strike you as weird? Bothersome?  Desperate?  Smart?  Interesting?  Do you even notice them?

CX for Traveling Families - A Retrospective

We just spent three weeks traveling around California where I was virtually unplugged for three whole weeks.  As most seasoned road warriors will agree -- there are not too many "perks" left with regard to travel.  However, I've learned it's even worse for parents!  

As we moved from place-to-place with our two year old, we found doing almost everything more difficult.  We were also saddened by some of the individual and collective responses people and various companies had toward us -- or any other people traveling with small children ...

- On the down side, my mind drifts to one unfortunate encounter with a rude, snarky United Airlines gate agent who was downright ugly and dismissive when we asked (on cue) whether we could board early with our exhausted child, bags, stroller, car seat, etc.) a bit earlier.  

- There was also a Shuttle driver who watched us flounder with our bags while our child whined and cried (after 7 hours in an airport) and then cracked jokes about us over the shuttle loud speaker. (Yes. Believe it!)

- Word to the Wise:  California has a horrible track record for having bathrooms with changing tables.  Just sayin'... Thank the good Lord we had an SUV with room to change a diaper now and then!

- Side Note:  It's never EVER adviseable to bring a 2 year old to a Victorian Bed and Breakfast full of antiques. It tends to ruin the relaxed ambience....

However, in truth, I'm actually very relaxed and happy after this trip, which was mostly phenomenal.  So, rather than harping on anything negative, I will instead share some bright spots of this experience: 

United Pilots Rock!  While United's policies (see above) may stink... many people in the flight crew were terrific. We received plane trading plane cards, pin-on wings and many "official" greetings for our two year old. This, along with a small model airplane made our child's flying experience more exciting and real!  "I a WEAL piwot, mommy" made my day more than once.

Props to Mimi's Cafe - About 2 weeks into our trip, our waiter at Mimi's recognized our cranky hungry one and quickly delivered a "rescue kit"  -->  in the form of a sippy cup with juice, a bowl of cheerios, an orange slice, hand wipes and a bib! Brilliant!

Take "Cliff" on Your Next Trip! - Can I just say "Cliff Bars - YUM!"?  Whether it's Chocolate Cherry Almond, Carrot Cake or Chocolate Chip... Cliff Bars made those hungry moments go away quickly... and our little one loved this healthy, not too sticky snack.

Enterprise Picked Us Up.  Great service with a smile from Enterprise Car Rental going and coming.  They even saw our luggage and gave us a free upgrade.  They were proactive, positive and empathetic.  As we dropped off our SUV, our greeter met us with a knowing smile, offered to drop us at our gate and help us with bags! No need to transfer everything to the nearby shuttle. This was a God send!

Parents United! One more than one occasion, a helpful "I'm a Mom too" or "It's okay, I'm a Dad" person would help us manage our boarding by grabbing a car seat or bag we boarded a plane or shuttle. God bless every one of them!


We did a lot of flying and driving on this trip, covering a ton of ground from the coast to the plains.... these things helped us get through it better.

BYO Car Seat!   Our luxury car seat is heavy, cumbersome and isn't airline approved.  Instead, of renting one,we bought a lightweight, FAA approved car seat for $35 on sale and placed it in both the airline seat and our rental car.  We saved bundle against the cost of a rental, and it made our tyke's airline travel more safe and comfortable.

Games Rule!  We got creative making up games to entertain or little one - like counting stuff, singing ABC's, Finding things hidden in a crowded terminal or landscape.... Our favorite game was "Red Light; Green Light."  "Green Light" allowed our ward to run ahead of us. "Red Light" was the command to stop immmediately and wait for adult catch up.  While the instruction sometimes backfired on us, the freedom  this afforded our little one in low traffic areas (terminals, gates, ramps, sidewalks and parks) was priceless. It also amused passers-by. 

Backpack, Backpack!  I ditched my purse and laptop case for a backpack.  Contents as follows:  Compartment 1 - Small, Quick Retrival Diversions like pacifier, hand-held figurines, cars, etc. Compartment 2 - Necessities like diapers, pullups, tissue, wipes, change of clothes, blankie... Compartment 3 - Secure storage for wallet, personal items, Droid and valium (just kidding about the valium). Compartment 4 - Books, toys, favorite animal, art supplies and "special secret surprises" (read: diversions and little books from the $1 aisle at Target)  for various legs of the trip. Additional storage for beverage and/or sippy cup very handy. Worked like magic!

Art Supplies Critical!   Triangular crayons, like these from Melissa & Doug won't roll off the tray or restaurant table for later retrieval (thank you, Lord!). I also loved these mini coloring pages from Crayola... which fold out like a book, have a "pocket" to hold mini markers and feature lots of coloring pages for the prolific artist!  These were helpful everywhere!

Corners for Containment - Keeping a cabin-fever infected child still outside the car or airplane won't work.  Look for corners, booths and nooks to hide out in, this allows little ones to run within defined boundaries without a leash.  Make sure this is away from people who get easily annoyed as well as emergency doors.

God Bless Motorola:  We used our Droid and Google Maps & other apps to quickly locate parks, beaches, arcades and toy stores to help break up any adult-driven monotony with child-focused activity. The local mall play areas also proved to be incredibly helpful for running out pent up energy on rainy days.

I shall leave you now with three short words: "Zip Lock Bags" - they're good for so many things from sanitary storage of items, to disposal of stinky items, to storing liquids and other items. We brought a box and were not sorry.

All in all, we had a terrific trip and I only worked for about 3 days!  If you know me, that is nothing short of a miracle. Of course, family, friend and loved ones, complimented by the beautiful Northern California scenery made it all amazing.  :-)  Now, I'm afraid it's back to the grind!





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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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