Is A Google 'Buy Now' Button Inevitable?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, February 23, 2015
It’s been two months since the Wall Street Journal reported that Google has been considering a "Buy Now” button on Google Shopping. The rumored feature would transition Google from a custom search engine to a marketplace, more directly challenging Amazon’s “one-click" ordering feature and dramatically changing the customer experience on Google Shopping.

The "Buy Now" button sounds great in theory -- but here are four major challenges that may delay or completely derail this new feature.

1. How Will Google Receive Real-Time Inventory Updates?

If Google adds this button, the company will need to impose new technical standards to ensure accurate and real time inventory updates from  advertisers.  Once Google owns the checkout process, it assume the responsibility of keeping its shoppers happy. Out of stock products do not lead to happy customers, and Google would need a strict mechanism in place not to penalize sellers with inaccurate product inventory.



2. Will Google Share Customer Data?

Retailers were outraged when Google Shopping embraced paid inclusion, but they quickly came around to accept a Google Shopping World with increased advertiser control.  A lot of those same retailers refuse to sell on Amazon because Amazon controls the entire customer experience. Google can either choose to put its users first and protect their contact information, or it can appease its advertisers by sharing customer data. It will difficult to come up with a solution that appeals to both the user and the advertiser.

3. How Will Google Enforce Fast Shipping?

Amazon Prime has completely changed shipping expectations for online shoppers. Amazon customers expect free shipping within 48 hours without thinking twice about the challenge this presents for most retailers. Unless Google is planning on creating its own fulfillment network (Fulfillment by Google?), it will now have to deal with the rising (and often unrealistic) shipping expectations of today’s online shoppers.

4. Would Retailers Willingly Participate?

Most retailers view Amazon as a necessary evil, begrudgingly selling there because they can’t ignore Amazon's massive customer base. Amazon has always had a customer-centric approach, brilliantly managing to create a seller-agnostic customer experience.   Google, on the other hand, has allowed its advertisers to “own” the customer relationship after the initial click. If Google makes the decision to allow shoppers to check out directly on Google Shopping, the search giant would have to make the difficult decision on whether or not to share the customer’s contact information with the seller.

Can a search giant become a retail giant? Regardless of the spin Google would put behind a "Buy Now" button, taking this step would continue to blur the line between search and retail.

Google would undoubtedly create a beautiful checkout process, which would help to turn more Google Shopping browsers into buyers.  However, the "Buy Now" button would also require Google to become much more involved in the logistics and customer-service aspects of a retail world that Amazon absolutely dominates. Is that a battle Google really wants to have?

In the end, I’m hypothesizing yes. Maybe not as soon as The Wall Street Journal piece suggests -- but Amazon’s lucrative river of revenue will prove too juicy a target to pass up. Whether Google can successfully address the four points above, however, will determine whether this proves to be smooth sailing (and selling) or not.

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