Google has always been coy about its long-rumored move into eCommerce and retail. The corporation’s head of search ads dismissed questions at SMX Advanced 2015 – when the first iterations of the “Buy Now” button appeared in search results. According to Jerry Dischler, the button was nothing more than a conversion optimization test.
His hand-waving routine might have put an end to the questions, but many industry insiders speculated that it was the first of several steps that Google would take to compete with Amazon and other online retailers. Clearly, this avenue made sense for a search giant that enjoys 75 percent market share in online search.
For a time, the buzz around the button quietened down. Then, in 2017, a new section in the Google Merchant Center raised advertisers’ eyebrows — the beta program for Purchases on Google.
We predicted that Purchases on Google would see large-scale rollouts in 2017. It appears we were right. As it turned out, Google quietly rolled out the beta program for select retailers via mobile search. They made no announcement, trying to limit any associated noise.
“Purchases On Google” (PoG) barely appeared in search results.
Google limited the program to mobile users, further masking visibility. However, PoG’s inclusion in the Merchant Center has renewed buzz around the topic…proving that Google has not given up on a program they announced three years ago.
Clearly, Google is still testing implementations for the program. We’ve seen the consumer-facing search button/product tag go through several iterations in the search results. Initially, a “Buy on Google” button appeared atop the product image, but we’ve seen variations, such as “Easy Checkout” option at both the top and bottom of the product image.
Google’s leap into eCommerce – and desire to let consumers buy products directly through search results – scares many in the eCommerce industry. It’s natural to be worried. A competitor as large as Google would upend the market and lead to unpredictable outcomes. But retailers and eCommerce companies shouldn’t panic. Instead, try to understand the landscape and prepare for what may come.
As your company keeps an eye on further developments, keep these things in mind:
Purchases on Google is Coming…but Slowly
It’s been over three years since outlets got wind of the PoG program. Since that time, the company has released very little information. It had been so quiet in fact, some speculated that the search giant planned on ending the program, or at least placing it on the backburner.
However, the rollout of its beta program (along with different tests that have been observed in search results) has shown it to be alive and well. eCommerce companies that have held tightly to theories that the program had been scrapped should accept its impending arrival…and do their best to prepare for it.
If history is any indication, there’ll be quite some time before it is wide-spread. Even then, there is no indication that Google plans a large-scale launch. When it does go live officially, the program will likely be limited to certain retailers, products, or categories.
When PoG does arrive, most eCommerce shops should embrace – rather than shunt – these circumstances. Naturally, eCommerce companies and retailers would prefer to be in charge of the checkout process. Nonetheless, several retailers will presumably join the program to get ahead of the pack.
While it isn’t clear if the current restrictions on its beta program will extend to a live version, it does lead some to think that the program will be at least somewhat exclusive.
And the biggest reason for this? Eligibility restrictions hamper acceptance to the beta program. Companies must meet a host of technical requirements. These include a need to build out order management API calls to Google…and strong traffic numbers through the Google Shopping platform.
Additionally, it appears that Google is still getting a feel for how PoG will cater to customer service issues. Currently, the company assigns responsibility on a case-by-case basis. Some retailers have reported that Google handles all aspects of customer service through the program, including refunds. In other cases, Google itself handles customer service for orders through the platform.
Wait and See
The future of the Purchases on Google program remains unclear. What is clear is that the company has not given up on the idea, and is actively testing different implementations. While the prospect of Google making a large move into the eCommerce arena concerns companies within that space, we’re still at the “wait and see” stage.