Searching on Google is a frequent starting point for shopping, and with some new features, it can now be the end point, too.
Users of the search engine can now buy thousands of products (denoted by a primary colored shopping cart icon) directly through Google, the company said, instead of being redirected to the web site of another retailer. While Google is acting more as a facilitator at this point — orders will be fulfilled by the third parties selling them — the company is also facilitating returns, refunds and offering customer service.
Still, Google is not defining itself as an online retailer since it will not be “the merchant of record” for any of the transactions it’s enacting. But it is offering a 20 percent discount with a shopping code for the launch of the checkout feature and the overall redesign of Google Shopping. As for whether this can be seen as an attempt by Google to compete directly with the likes of Amazon and Alibaba, a spokeswoman for the Google Shopping team said, “It’s important to give users as many choices as possible.
“Many people already use Google to get ideas and look for great products to buy every day,” the spokeswoman added. “Our goal is to make shopping easier for them and anyone else who comes to Google.”
While shopping must be a miniscule business (specifics were not given) relative to Google’s massive revenue stream from advertising, if nothing else, the expansion of shopping will keep people on the search engine for longer, giving the platform even more leverage in advertising.
Although it maintains its role as a mere platform, Google said it’s committed to offsetting the carbon emissions created by the delivery economy it’s now directly participating in with more investments in “clean energy projects.” Asked for specifics, the spokeswoman referred to a recent blog post by Ruth Porat, president and chief financial officer, discussing Google’s investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. As for whether Google plans to get deeper into the e-commerce business with warehouses for product and shipping services, the spokeswoman said there were “no announcements to make on that front.”
Beyond direct checkout, Google is rolling out price tracking for products, a tool it’s comparing to its popular tracking of flight fares. The price tracker can follow specific products a shopper selects and when the price of an item drops online, an e-mail and text notification will go out. It’s also expanding the capabilities of Google Images to show product availability, so shoppers can now, just from looking at the images in a search, find out if something is in stock. Google Lens is also expanding with a “similar styles” feature that will show comparable products to shoppers and a “styles ideas” feature is coming this week, too.
All of this seems designed for larger stores with more infrastructure and technology, but Google insisted that “stores of all sizes” can participate by using free tools for merchants to upload and manage product information and inventory data. Then retailers can opt in to ads, actions and search results, making it possible to appear, somewhere, on Google’s powerful search results.
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