Photo by: STRF/STAR MAX/IPx 2021 2/3/21 Google stock price soars on strong earnings from YouTube Ad revenue. STAR MAX Photo: Google and Youtube logos photographed on Apple devices.

Google on Wednesday revealed new retail efforts, including a beta program for YouTube livestream shopping and updates to help retailers reach deal-hunting shoppers.

“This test was first available on videos on demand, and we’re now piloting this experience on livestreams with a handful of creators and brands,” Google wrote on its blog, The Keyword. “So if you’re watching a supported livestream on YouTube, you can browse and shop products in real time, without interruption.”

The video platform disclosed in February that it has been beta testing “integrated shopping experiences,” which included shoppable videos. The company framed it as a way for consumers “to tap into the credibility and knowledge of trusted creators to make informed purchases directly on YouTube,” it wrote at the time, promising ongoing expansion through 2021. Last month, it dipped a toe into live shopping with Small Biz Day, a new event that piped in livestream shopping from 20 small businesses.

YouTube’s shopping ambitions have led to partnerships with numerous fashion and beauty brands, as well as tech providers such as L’Oréal’s Modiface and Perfect Corp. on virtual try ons for beauty products.

The latest announcement notably comes on the heels of YouTube’s disclosure this week that it acquired Simsim, an India-based social commerce start-up, in a confidential deal that some pundits believe exceeds $70 million. Expectations run high that the acquisition will inform the company’s commerce reach in India. But it’s worth noting that YouTube has launched other features in India first, such as YouTube Shorts, before rolling out more broadly.

The news arrives at a pivotal moment for social commerce, as contenders have been busy preparing for their next act. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, TikTok and more have been looking to dive deeper into online shopping trends, including live shopping, augmented reality try-ons, shopping with friends and other initiatives.

Whether they can do it successfully or not is hardly a question: Social commerce will rake in more than $36 billion in the U.S. this year, according to an eMarketer report, which pegs domestic social e-commerce sales growth in 2021 to hit 35.8 percent. While that’s not as high as the 38.9 percent growth clocked in 2020, it managed to retain quite a bit of momentum from the pandemic-fueled year.

Social media companies apparently see a cash cow in social media shopping, though it doesn’t come without risks — namely, undercutting the appeal and authenticity of the very influencers who power these platforms, their popularity and their commerce bids.

In essence, if all they become are product pushers, it’s hard to imagine fans will continue to follow, like and subscribe at the same levels. The fundamental question then becomes, if these platforms become little more than online shopping malls, do they lose the essence of what made them popular in the first place?

As if to address the question and keep all manner of content creators engaged and motivated, YouTube also revealed a new monetization tool this week. Now available broadly as a beta feature, Super Thanks allows fans to applaud — read: tip — to show appreciation for single uploaded videos, ranging from $2 to $50. It’s the fourth method the platform developed for directly paying creators, beyond paid monthly subscriptions and livestream tipping mechanisms Super Stickers and Super Chat.

YouTube, which boasts that its massive userbase of more than 2 billion people accounts for nearly a third of the internet, is poised to be Google’s best weapon in the battle to dominate social or video commerce.

But that’s not to say it’s the tech giant’s only retail gambit. Google also revealed new search and Google Shopping updates on Wednesday targeting bargain shoppers and amplifying seasonal promotions.

One tool spotlights deals related to Google searches within a new section of the Google Shopping tab. As the Google Shopping team explained on its site, “Today, when shoppers scroll through the results page on the Shopping tab, they will now see a new ‘Deals related to your search’ prompt that highlights the most competitive deals based on discount.” Compannies can participate by uploading promotions in the Google Merchant Center.

Google noted that searches for “discount code” jumped 50 percent since last year. And since seasonal shopping naturally tends to spur searches for sales and promotions, it’s natural to extend the concept to the holidays.

This year, shoppers in the U.S. who search for holiday discounts will see a new carousel set into their search results. The update will launch in October and cover “the most popular web-ranked deals for major retail sales moments,” the company explained. “This Deals section will become a staple for current and future sales moments — like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.”

Other updates allow brands to customize how people discover deals or gain new data insights.

For instance, companies can set public promotions so that they only apply to first-time customers, as well as distinguish specific deals for indexing via organic traffic, which is free, versus paid listings. As for reporting, historical bestseller data can help stores understand trends and even assist demand forecasting, while a new data field sheds light on the “relative demand” between products in the same category and country.