If Google's updates were a secret plot to sell more AdWords, Google wouldn't favor commercial results in so many searches that could be either informational or transactional, depending on user intent.
I could not even begin to compare informational queries/websites to those who physically manufacture the products they sell. For many informational queries, Google has the destination websites monetized with Adsense. For those who produce the products they sell, many are finding themselves competing against super affiliates of the likes of Amazon or auctioneers such as eBay.
Regardless of the above, I can see why Google would display some commercial sites on informational queries. Users seeking information are likely attempting to solve a problem or determine a solution to a defined set of criteria. So while a user is merely seeking information at that moment, an algorithm would attempt to predict the next step in the purchase cycle for how that consumer would act on the information they have now been empowered with.
I tend to look at most informational sites and affiliate marketers as the same. Both often have collected information from other sources and present it to users in a different way in hopes of either generating a sale or producing a click on an Adsense ad. Although both have their roles in the consumption cycle, I base my opinions on seeing many reputable businesses that produce, ship, support and warranty products who are fighting for visibility in a search engine that has picked winners and losers based on their extracurricular relationships with Google.
Google has and does treat informational queries much differently than those of businesses who sell physical goods. Quite simply an informational query can't be monetized by Google in the same way as a product. Comparing information based sites to those of brick and mortar businesses is like comparing an apple to a 14 ounce strip steak IMO. Granted, they are both edible but they are not even in the same food groups.
Outside of the scant number of recoveries noted, particularly among those who do not sell physical goods, soft panda has done little to impact those businesses/sectors I monitor. These are real businesses, with real employees who service the customer from the first contact to well beyond the sales with product support and warranties. We could compare this to Amazon who simply presents products to consumers, takes their money and ends their relationship with the customer for that transaction at that point (excluding the opportunity to leave a review). The user experience does not end when the product ships and the consumer has questions, needs a replacement part or must send the product back in for warranty service.
The implications of Google's algorithm and market dominance leaves many small businesses in a difficult dilemma. Do they spend more on Adwords to be seen or sell their products on a whitelisted property (Amazon) to recover a portion of their lost sales over the last year. Already faced with significant financial pressure from global competition, these businesses now must consider cutting even deeper into margins for their survival. Most information based sites do not have this problem as their staff, if any, is relatively small in comparison to what it takes to bring manufactured goods from the factory floor to the market.
Some of the business owners/execs I know had hopes that the softer panda would help their sites. I did my best to temper their expectations because I feel that the current trends in Google organics is following a path many have predicted - the end of organic search except where Google has no other options to monetize that specific query.
Just as there is plenty of information to support conspiracy theories with Google, there is also an equal amount of information to support the contrary. Google Compute Engine will compete with Amazon's AWS. Google's Nexus tablet competes with Amazon's Kindle Fire. Despite that, both Google and Amazon are both pushing products/services to support a warehouse shopping experience that originates online and ends when the customer picks up their goods in a locker (Google's BufferBox and Amazon's Locker). Although I have my own theories, the fact remains that Google is extremely profitable while Amazon continues to generate losses. At one point or another, Amazon could become a prime target for a takeover. Who would be better positioned, with similar assets and the money to buy, than Google? Granted, such a takeover would have little impact on informational sites. But for the manufacturing industry, which has seen its heart ripped out by unfair trade agreements, such a merger would devastate those manufacturers who are now struggling to hang on.