Google is ready to solve the headaches of the online sales process, and they're going to do it by becoming your point-of-sale. Today the search behemoth gave us the first bit of details about their move, which online shoppers will probably not even really notice until they're ready to buy – by clicking on a Google-placed "buy" button on a shopping-related search results page. Google floated this idea last December and was met with mixed response, though it seems they've concluded that all the nay-saying is not so warranted.
At least at first, Google won't be adding "buy" buttons in searches coming from desktop browsers. No doubt they'll do so if their mobile test is as successful as they hope it will be, though. These couple morsels of information are the full extent of what it discussed today off-the-record, but it was enough to spark vigorous conversation.
In requests for comment, retailers are expressing an uneasy feeling about Google entering what has long been exclusively their turf. But let's be real here: Google already knows when you're clicking on an ad that leads to a product page that has its tracking code on it which has every capability of knowing the exact moment when you click a "buy" button on that page. They have incredible amounts of knowledge that retailers haven't been too concerned about. So… what exactly is this concern for, Amazon, eBay and others? Google will now handle the final decision step first. So what? By doing so, they'll reduce the time that elapses between a click and a sale – that is, they reduce the period of time that a consumer can use to potentially second-guess an impulse purchase. How is this a bad thing for business? Yes, Google now will know with greater accuracy whenever sales are generated from their search results. Isn't that a metric that AdWords clients would actually enjoy having in their Analytics data? I mean, don't they want to know that their AdWords marketing budget can be even more capable of generating a sale on account of more pro-client aggressive marketing on Google's end?
Seriously, why is there outrage?
The news is recent, and perhaps these reactions are just knee-jerk out of fear that Google is going to use this additional data to craft a Google-owned storefront to compete with Amazon and eBay and others. But why would they do that, when the critical cost of delivery is a figure that their competitors have already nailed down and also built multibillion dollar businesses on. Amazon already is the best-in-the-world (behind, possibly, Wal-Mart) at mass-scale distribution and inventory management. eBay runs all of its deliveries through either UPS, which also services Amazon, or USPS which doesn't and wouldn't have much of a reason to give preference to deliveries coming from Google as opposed to ones shipped by individual sellers on eBay or buyers/sellers through Amazon. Google can't really compete on price either, as Amazon would be their main competitor and its margins from billions of sales aren't even yet high enough to turn respectable profits.
The retailers understandably could view this move as an indirect threat to them, because short-circuiting the browsing experience pretty much eliminates retailers' opportunities to upsell and cross-sell from their product pages. They lose the ability to resell that lost sales funnel data (in aggregate, of course), neither will they be receiving customers payment information from Google – both potentially valuable sets of information for retailers and their business partners.
Finally, it's worth noting that Google will not be placing "buy" buttons within organic search results, only alongside AdWords in shopping-related results. They're simply running a grand basic experiment to see how effective a "buy" button can be vs. the established click-browse-and-then-buy process that we've been following for decades now. Retailers will still fulfill the sale, and Google's post-click sale conversion pages will be "heavily branded" for the retailer who paid for the advertisement and who will be fulfilling the sale. Google is even going to push the retailer's newsletter signup offers on these branded pages – yet another way they're acting more as an opportunity than a threat! As was noted in the initial report, Google is effectively going to be an "online transactional business" for online retail, moreso than they've always been in their traditional role of sales lead generator. Google wouldn't seem to have a reason to hoard the data related to their sales funnel, because they aren't in the business of doing anything in retail but providing better search results that they can reap ad revenue from.
From the perspective of an inquiring consumer, this approach really could turn into more sales as the seemingly endless friction encountered between search and sale will be all but eliminated. No more dealing with mobile-unfriendly websites. No more needing to give your credit card information to every single merchant you want to buy from. More dealing with useful, purchase-friendly – and thus more desired – advertising.
Macy's has been mentioned as a launch partner (though their spokesperson hasn't yet confirmed). They would appear to be the sort of retailer that is going to especially enjoy this program – more sales on high-margin, traditionally-low-volume products, for whom having a brick-and-mortar presence is relatively more risky than if they were a high-volume, high-revenue company. Other retailers like Macy's selling higher-value products and existing for impulse buyers are sure to realize the amazing opportunity Google is offering them in this experiment. I'm super excited to see how it plays out!