Commentary

The Buy Button is Coming

With Google confirming that the Google buy button is, in fact, imminent, the retail and advertising communities have responded with mixed emotions. Now, so will I.

How we think this will work

When a shopper clicks on Google’s "buy button" in a mobile PLA, they will be taken to a landing page within Google for preferences in size and color of the product, in addition to the completion of the purchase. Although this implies that Google has a much larger role in the transaction, the search giant assures retailers that the rest of the process is turned back over to them -- order processing, shipping, customer inquiries, etc. On the flip side, we can see why retailers have shown concern -- with this strategy, Google becomes its own shopping marketplace (just like Amazon), eliminating the need for shoppers to go directly to the retail Web sites for future shopping. This move could also dramatically change relationships between retailers and their customers. Yes, customers still have the option to interact with merchant marketing programs, but this may not be enough to set retailers’ minds at ease.

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Google says its intent is to speed up the mobile buying process in order to strengthen the consumer’s shopping experience. With so much search volume happening on mobile phones, the intention is good -- conversion rates on phones are still lower than on computers and tablets, so we welcome any way to continue to boost those conversion rates. But we also don’t want to see anything rolled out for short-term gain that could hurt online retailers long-term. That remains to be seen, though. It’s also likely a strategic move to combat both Amazon and eBay, who arguably own product-related search and conversion on mobile devices. While there are certainly pros for retailers, who have been challenged by mobile conversions, there are several lingering questions.

Conversion versus customer relationships

While the buy button may in fact gain retailers more sales in mobile, they may have to trade something off to Google in return: customer data. Because mobile users will be able to input their credentials through Google, they will no longer need to do so on a retailer’s Web site. Retailers could also lose out on the capability to place a cookie on the user’s browser, which forces them to let go of critical pieces of data that help them to tailor each customer’s experience with their brand. Many retailers have accepted what they must "give up" to Amazon, who is the clear leader in product search right now. But will retailers have the same feelings toward Google, if the search giant in fact chooses to keep all customer data from them? It becomes a question of priority -- is the promise of greater ROI in mobile more important than access to customer data, and the ability to maintain relationships with them? What are the long term repercussions for retailers’ email programs if they are not adding new customers to their house files?

Stronger Attribution?

As advertisers we wonder how often our paid mobile ads are actually leading to a purchase completed on a mobile device. Generally speaking, shoppers seem more likely to view a PLA on mobile, but then take the purchase onto their larger desktop screen, or even through a retailer’s exclusive mobile application -- finally, even in-store. If Google will help retailers to have a stronger sense of that ratio, it may entice them to spend more. This would hypothetically be a win for both Google and the retailer, as long as more conversions actually happen. 

How will consumers respond?

At the surface level, the addition of the buy button is just another mode of seamless shopping experiences that consumers will likely gravitate toward out of convenience. After all, they are already very well acquainted with the model (Amazon and eBay). While convenience is highly valued, it’s not the only thing that consumers care about. If smart shoppers recognize the level to which this buy button is a monetization tool for Google, they may opt to continue their regular purchasing patterns, whether that be on Amazon, eBay or through the retailer’s site. The other question to consider is, how often are people really using "Shop on Google’ versus Amazon" -- especially on mobile? It will be interesting to see how shoppers choose to use the new button.

There is one question that is easy to answer: should retailers test it? Of course. Test the product, then make the business decision about keeping it or not. When Google rolls out a beta program, it too is “testing” the feature. Products like Dynamic Search Ads have had three iterations already, and now it is working great -- so it will be fascinating to see how this product evolves.

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