Google managed the surprise of the week with the announcement that it was dramatically and quickly leveling up its eCommerce capability by essentially turning any and every Google surface (think Search, Images, YouTube etc.,) into a shoppable location.
Though perhaps it shouldn’t have.
Google’s enhancements to its shopping infrastructure have been more or less a steady drumbeat for the last 18 months. Since 2016, Google has been adding ads to an ever-increasing number of surfaces, has made it easier for local merchants to surface their inventory lists for consumers and has made so many enhancement to Google Express that it would be too time-consuming to list them all here.
Google has been getting serious about being an eCommerce presence for some time, and with the recent reports that Amazon is starting to take a noticeable bite out of Google’s advertising revenue – well, we might have expected Google, in turn, to take a serious bite out of Amazon's eCommerce revenue.
Turnabout, after all, is fair play.
And Google, judging by the scale of the ambitions intimated in this week’s announcement, is looking to make a pretty big turn – one that looks to be heading directly into constructing a contextual eCommerce ecosystem of its own.
Apart from expanding shopping capacity to Search, Google Images, Maps and YouTube, the Google Shopping destination has been completely redesigned in a way described as “merging the best of Google Express with Google Shopping.”
With the new design, consumers will have a personalized homepage within the Shopping tab, where they can filter what types of goods and services are shown. They can filter by brands or items, or they can read reviews or watch video content on certain products. The example given by Google was a customer in the market for a set of new headphones filtering for attributes like “wireless” or a brand like “Sony.”
To make the commerce activity obvious to consumers, Google’s new shopping experience will include the insertion of a little blue shopping cart logo to “show shoppers they can seamlessly purchase what they want with simple returns and customer support, backed by a Google guarantee,” the company noted. Clicking that blue icon will automatically add the item to a universal shopping cart.
For merchants that are already part of Google’s Shopping Actions program, their products will automatically be included as part of the new purchasing experience on Google Shopping, Google.com and the Google Assistant, which are now up and running. Shopping Actions will expand to Google Images and YouTube later in the year.
Google is also bulking up its Showcase Shopping ads. Designed as a “swipeable and visual experience,” the ads are highly visual and focused on highlighting “rich lifestyle imagery,” according to Google. They will appear in Google Images later in 2019.
“On average, we see about 80 percent of traffic from Showcase Shopping ads to retailer sites are from new visitors just discovering the brands,” Google wrote in its blog post.
Moreover, the new shopping push, which is based on consumer choice and preference, is also geared toward driving more foot traffic to merchant locations. Today, Google has two billion store offers mapped to physical store locations globally, discoverable by current local ad formats. According to in-house research, 45 percent of global shoppers currently buy online and pick up in-store, which offers a more flexible way to purchase and receive their items.
“When they’re ready to buy, they can choose to purchase online, in a nearby store and now directly on Google,” the post noted of the expanded contextual commerce play. “For retailers and brands, it brings together ads, local and transactions in one place to help them connect with consumers at the right time.”
To deepen its offering for brick-and-mortar merchants, Google has also updated its Smart Shopping campaigns, which will not only optimize for online conversions, but will also allow merchants to optimize for store visits and display local inventory information. The updates will make it easier for brands and manufacturers to work together on specific, product-focused promotions in target areas, according to Google.
Will It Work?
So does Google have an Amazon slayer in the making? Well, it is too early to say for sure – but almost certainly not, just as Amazon’s progress in stealing search and selling ads out from under Google doesn’t mean they are about to slay the search giant. While the narrative about FAANG firms hitting the scene and decimating all that stands in their path is a fun tech folk tale, it’s not accurate much of the time – and it’s especially inaccurate when the FAANG starts fighting for turf.
But Google is already a big part of the commerce process for a lot of people. Consumers research goods via web searches, look at pictures of products they want on Google Images and watch unboxing, product reviews and various test drives via YouTube videos. Instead of sending users off to find the objects they seek elsewhere, it seems Google is going to try to capture those consumers in context, while they are already avidly looking at, thinking about or interacting with products.
Given the growth of “Buy it Now” buttons and the like across social media, it seems Google is catching on to the changing patterns of modern eCommerce, looking to capitalize on them and to boost their ad revenues in the meantime.
Which means the race for eCommerce dominance among U.S. shoppers has certainly gotten a bit more interesting – and a whole lot faster.
We’ll keep you posted on what comes next.