What is the Google ‘Buy’ button?

First mentioned on Econsultancy in May, on clicking a Google AD containing the proposed ‘Buy’ button, consumers will be taken to a Google-hosted shopping page where they will complete the entire purchase without ever actually visiting the retailer’s own website.

It has parallels to an Amazon marketplace sale in that Google pages are the only thing the buyer will see as money changes hands via Google Wallet.

Retailers will lose control of the customer experience

The first downside for retailers is obvious.  No matter what customisable page-styling scope Google may allow, it will be no match for a brands own website experience that has been lovingly crafted.

This looks like a step in the wrong direction, as retailers are working hard to deliver the best customer experience online since it’s a vital brand differentiator.  

In Google’s favour the focus more recently has been on making purchasing easier and removing unnecessary touch points.

The Buy button would help to make searching and buying faster, but by stepping in to control the browsing and purchasing experience is it not not simply re-introducing the middle-man, with the danger of becoming a version of Amazon Marketplace, much maligned by some ecommerce traders?

How far has Google gone?

Currently the buy button has only been made available to a dozen or so US brands, as revealed at a press event in New York three weeks ago. A roll out will take place later in 2015 and early 2016.

It is yet unknown when the button will hit UK Google search results. What is known, is that the much talked about button will only be available to Google AdWords account holders, who must also sign up to Google’s Merchant Centre and verify their website with Webmaster tools, in order to have their own Google shopping feed.

Retailers who want their products to appear in a Google search result with this new ‘buy’ button functionality, an extension of the Product Listing Ad or PLA, will need to jump through various Google admin hoops. 

More channels equals more effort to prevent more errors

Pricing errors are embarrassing, expensive and brand damaging, with consumers rushing to take advantage of high ticket items mistakenly offered at bargain prices – remember ScrewFix… everything priced at £34.99!

The damage is also a dent in bottom line and has the potential to cause customer-service overload as disgruntled customers find their ‘too good to be true’ orders cancelled.

The risk of price errors is increased when adding another pricing channel. Updating product inventory through additional channels and doing so whilst ensuring no errors, takes some resources.

The burden of adding another channel

Retailers surely have enough to contend with already through maintaining a website, social channels, apps, in-store kiosks etc.

They will be required to take on the responsibility of ensuring they have the correct product information on their shopping feed including price, sizing, colour and availability! The retailer is expected to do all the work and Google’s clever web-spider gets a rest here!

Hazarding a guess, if I were Google I would want to reduce this barrier to entry for retailers and be working behind the scenes to create a range of software plugins for the most-used ecommerce platforms from Magento, Hybris and so on. These plugins automatically feed Google with the necessary information.

Google offering off the shelf plugins to web teams would save time, reduce internal resistance and ultimately would streamline uptake for Ad teams at retailers looking to use the new Google Buy button.

Is it worth being seen as an early adopter?

Some brands may want to get on board for the plausible reason of attracting their customer demographic and to be perceived as riding the wave.  

Being involved is a good source for more content marketing and social engagement. Some may take the view that if Google Buy takes off, the earlier to have been on board, the better.

But will Google know too much?

Firstly, there are big concerns here. If many retailers take part, Google has the potential to become the world’s largest online product catalogue, with knowledge of most every product’s price and availability everywhere! Bigger than Amazon.

That’s a concerning prospect for retailers – with dystopian Sci-Fi associations. Imagine the scenario where retailers’ websites become purely brochure-ware and everybody shops at Google and Amazon!

Secondly, the power that Google would wield is scary. In the UK we’ve read over time how supermarkets have squeezed food suppliers; effectively setting the price in the channel and how much of it goes to the supplier, tantamount to bullying tactics.

What is to stop Google doing the same?  Subtly ‘suggesting’ to retailers that this is the price window ‘our algorithms recommend’ and forcing their hand! So do retailers really want to cooperate in the building of a monster that will clearly eat lots of their market?

Order fulfilment costs

Online retailers must also address customer service issues such as returns, refunds and faulty or damaged goods.

Customer service is a key area for brands to maintain market share and loyalty but it is unclear how these scenarios will play out if a transaction takes place through Google and who will ultimately be responsible for resolving customer service queries. 

More than ever consumers expect high quality service at every touch point from a retailer they trust. Can we be sure the Google shopping experience can deliver this on the retailer’s behalf?

Online customer experience is the last battle ground for brands to differentiate themselves in the ever more crowded marketplace especially at time of purchasing but also when making a complaint or a return.

Website visitors need to be seduced via the online user experience. Big name brands need to build relationships with potential customers and a huge part of this is allowing them to get a flavour of the brand through their website. 

Google Buy removes retailers’ influence over these key brand-enhancing website deliverables at time of purchase:

  • The look and feel and usability of a mobile-friendly /responsive site
  • Fast user experience, brands can no longer aim to be faster than  competitors
  • Use of cross-selling
  • Brand defining functionality such as wish-lists, or ‘send my basket via email’ for cross device browsing, etc.

Google Buy removes control of the user journey

Buying should feel good, especially so for high value, luxury or high trust purchases and shopping via a generic search engine takes away the lustre from this experience. 

Marketing and web teams representing a brand online need to join forces to define and measure the ongoing user journey. Social, SEO, content-marketing and online advertising bring in visitors to your site, where you can then aim to maintain a website journey that inspires, excites and ultimately converts a user to a loyal and happy customer.

Removing the user from the brand experience leaves the process somewhat hollow.

In the months to come we will expectantly wait to see how US retailers respond to Google’s foray into ecommerce and how this effects buying behaviour. Large scale retailers selling mass market consumables will surely jump on the bandwagon.

My advice to brands looking to build and maintain their online reputation is to beware.