Case Study

The Silent Impact of 404 Errors: A Google Merch Shop Case Study

Last Updated: December 6, 2023

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In this Article

Desktop visitors to Google Merch Shop that saw a 404 error at any point during their visit converted to purchase at a 57.5% lower rate than those that did not see a 404 error during their visit.

The digital age is replete with advancements, but even giants like Google with limitless resources aren’t immune to the classic pitfalls of the web. One such issue, the 404 error, has proven to have a tangible impact on sales, as demonstrated by a study of year-long data on Google’s Merch Shop.

Google has a demo Google Analytics (GA4) site that uses Google Merch Shop as the source of real data from their e-commerce store to populate GA4. It’s interesting to look at the data as a case study on the cost of 404 errors on lost sales in an e-commerce setting. In this case study we will investigate the Google Merch Shop 404 Errors and their impact on Google sales in the store.

Key Metrics for Google Merch Shop

Digging through GA4 using explorations can tell you an interesting story about the Google Merch store. The data for this case study was filtered for 10/10/2022 to 10/10/2023. Some key metrics include:

  • Total Visitors: 871,275
  • Daily Visitors (Avg): 2,380
  • Total Revenue: $2,154,118

What becomes apparent looking at the data is that user behavior on the site is very divergent when comparing visitors that were on a mobile device versus a desktop computer. Because the vast majority of purchases took place on desktop (86%), this case study will mostly focus on desktop visitors. There are some interesting things that stand out for desktop visitors:

  • Total Desktop Visitors: 403,869
  • Daily Visitors (Avg): 1,106
  • Purchases: 13,605
  • Purchase Conversion Rate: 3.36%
  • Purchase Revenue: $2,140,618
  • Average Revenue/Purchase: $157

With the marketing prowess of Google, one might expect a greater influx of daily desktop visitors to their official merchandise store. However, the data suggests otherwise.

The 404 Effect on Desktop Users

A significant finding is the influence of a single 404 error on a desktop user’s buying behavior:

  • Total Desktop Visitors seeing a 404: 12,138 (3% of all desktop visitors)
  • Purchases: 226
  • Purchase Conversion Rate: 1.86%

To reiterate, while the overall desktop conversion rate stands at 3.36%, encountering a single 404 error diminishes this rate to 1.86% – a 57.5% lower rate. Additionally, 3 out of every 100 desktop visitors faced a 404 error in the past year.

Over the past year, 13,592 desktop visitors to their store
saw a 404 error which was 3% of all desktop visitors.

Lost Desktop Sales Due to Lost Visitors

If you make the basic assumption that desktop visitors that hit a 404 would have converted at the same rate as those that didn’t see a 404 error you can approximate what this 404 error rate for desktop visitors cost Google in merchandise sales over the past year.

If we take the delta in the conversion rates and take that times the number of visitors seeing a 404 error we determine that there were 183 lost sales. Multiplying that by the average revenue/purchase, we come to a pretty conservative estimate of $28,775 in lost sales over the past year due to 404 errors.

Google Merch Shop – 404 Errors in GA4


There were a few surprising findings in the case study:

  1. Based on percentage difference, desktop visitors that saw a 404 error made a purchase at a 57.5% lower rate than visitors that did not see a 404 error during their visit! This was 1.86% vs. 3.36% respectively.
  2. Lost annual sales due to 404 errors for desktop visitors was conservatively $28,775 which represents 1.3% of their desktop sales over the period.
  3. Having done a number of case studies, 3% desktop visitor 404 error rate is a high rate of 404 errors. Many of the URL’s that 404 during this time had a path that included “google+redesign”, so the issues were probably mostly related to a redesign project.
  4. While most appreciate that $28.7k is a rounding error to Google, it does represent 1.3% of their desktop visitor sales in the store over the past year. If this were a mom and pop shop, this would be real money lost with potential real consequences.

Concluding Thoughts

Oofta, isn’t it crazy how something as simple as a “404 error” can sneak up on us? Just thinking about $28,775 slipping through my fingers because of this pesky error makes my blood pressure rise! It’s a real wake-up call when you consider that one of the very top tech companies on the planet has an e-commerce site that served 3 of every 100 desktop visitors with a 404 error over the past year. We’re in a digital age where every missed click can hit our wallets. So, roll up your sleeves, dive into your website, and make sure no one gets greeted by that annoying “page not found” message again. Here’s to making next year all about no 404s!

Google Merch Shop conservatively had $28,775 in lost sales
over the past year due to 404 errors when looking only at desktop sales.

Don’t let this happen to your e-commerce store, check out NotFoundBot today!

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