"They need to tweak their platform, period!" -- the pace of change of their platform is dizzying, they are tweaking it all of the time.
Most often, when my team looks at failures, there are the same issues - too many (non-mod) broads, not enough negs, improperly setup conversion tracking, poor choices for targeting, bad ads, too wide an aim, lack of understanding of how Display is effectively targeted. Outside of the ads themselves, I often see a very poor understanding of their other channels, where other sources are being given far too much credit for generating sales - that one mistake, is a biggie. If you count things wrong, or don't count some things, all hope for real reach and success is lost. We often pass on new clients where we can see their other channels running amuck, it takes considerable effort to "teach" some executives what their other channels are doing to their attribution model. At a recent conference, I talked about it peripherally as a panelist, then one-on-one for a good 15 minutes, and the person I was speaking to had understood everything I said exactly backwards. I'm telling you, it's attribution, at it's core, where many go wrong. Sure, there's a lot more competition today that yesteryear, this will always be the case. So will appropriate aim, understanding how your customers buy, and such. I continue to see a lot of weakness in how others run PPC - when you do that, CPCs go way up, and you're tanked. For me, it's rare to conclude "this niche is saturated with great merchants and well run PPC and their CPCs mean this won't work for any new entrants".
Eventually the model that they are using will not last. Yes in the interim it will stoke more competition, but there is no way that model will serve the many. Sooner or later it will ONLY serve the few, the very "rich" few and when I say the very "rich" few I mean it;
I see it differently. When you aim off target, QS is slaughtered, your CPCs are inflated, and your omni-present reach becomes VERY painful, even affecting the areas you should be reaching for - QS forces everyone to be more relevant and specific. QS is the greatest democratizing force in PPC since it all started, it ensures many, many different entrants can succeed in the auction. The smallest store can trounce the largest whenever they are more relevant. Imo, without QS, it would be as you describe, a story of whoever has the most money takes all the spots. Fortunately, QS is David's comeuppance over Goliath. I really enjoy that part of what we do. I'm a huge fan of the little guy taking out the big guy!
Big guys have deep pockets, but they way they tend to pay people (salary) means performance pay folks like us, will always be able to kick them in the knee. Example, it's Sunday, I'm working, thinking about PPC... the salary guy at Target is drunk at a BBQ, he's 26, college educated, and will never dig thru data like I will. I'm gonna kick his ass for a long time to come - Google's QS and my biz model make sure I have an advantage. Shoot, in 3 years, he'll be doing something else, and some newbie will be in his chair, and I'll be making her life miserable - and nobody will be looking at the numbers close enough to even know I'm there. Big = slow, stupid, blind, content, unmotivated, undriven. Small = thanksgiving prayers given to G's QS and to the sloth nature of Goliath. Goliath should scared, we're coming in numbers, and we're driven - and he's partnered with cross channel cannibals (and doesn't even know it!) - all the while he's most focused on his integrated KPI dashboard's background color.