In the ‘new normal’ of the coronavirus pandemic, online shopping is more important than ever. Google recognises this, which is why in recent months we’ve seen it make several moves that bring it more squarely into the realm of ecommerce.

In April, Google announced that it would be free for merchants (first in the US, and later around the world) to list their products on Google Shopping, transforming a major paid search venue into an organic shopping listing (with select paid slots). The search giant followed this announcement up by revealing that free product listings were also coming to Google Search in a dedicated ‘product knowledge panel’.

Google framed these announcements as moves to democratise ecommerce for smaller businesses, which are often outcompeted in paid search by larger retailers with more money to spend. But there’s no denying that they also put Google more squarely in competition with Amazon, which is taking an ever-increasing portion of both product search and search ad spend.

Then, earlier this month, Google announced the latest project from Area 120, its in-house incubator: Shoploop, “an entertaining new way to shop online”. With short, entertaining and shoppable videos, Shoploop aims to combine the best of social, video and ecommerce all in one place.

But how does Shoploop work, and what does Google’s experiment mean for online shopping, social commerce, and influencer marketing? I tested out the platform and spoke to three experts to get their opinions: Saradha Sethuraman, Ecommerce Business Director at OMG Transact; Sarah Penny, Head of Content at Influencer Intelligence and Fashion & Beauty Monitor; and Chloe Cox, Social Media Lead at Wunderman Thompson Commerce.

Google Shoploop: How does it work?

Google Shoploop is currently only accessible on mobile: to access it, users need to visit in their mobile browser. (You can make use of the ‘Add to Home Screen’ function if you want to interact with it like a traditional app).

Upon opening the app, it’s clear that the focus is on beauty content, with separate tabs for ‘Makeup’, ‘Skincare’, ‘Hair’ and ‘Nail’ videos. A hamburger menu in the corner also opens up a list of options including ‘View my profile’, where you can access your followed creators and saved videos; ‘Saved videos’, another tab for accessing saved videos (slightly redundant?); and ‘Apply to be a creator’.

Shoploop has a vertical scrolling format, and videos will autoplay as you scroll, although they’re muted by default, so you need to unmute to hear the audio. Each one is 90 seconds long. The video content is a mixture of ‘vlog’ style narrated videos in which an influencer will demonstrate a product and talk about its benefits, step-by-step tutorials, and more ‘infomercial’ style videos with background music, product close-ups, captions and no narration.

shoploop website. image via Google

(The Shoploop vertical scrolling format and beauty categories. Image: Google Shoploop)

Scrolling through, the layout and format put me most in mind of TikTok, although the content is exclusively influencer-created instead of user-created – though a look at several creators’ profiles reveals that they have a Verified tick, which hints that Google may have plans to open up the platform more widely to user-submitted content in the future. For now, creators need to apply individually to be a part of the platform.

Shoploop also appears to be aiming primarily at a North American consumer base for now – the platform doesn’t specify where shops are based, but the majority appear to be US-oriented and prices on Shoploop are listed in dollars. This isn’t a surprise for Google which usually rolls out new features to the US first, but it may result in some disappointment for international shoppers if they can’t purchase products in their region.

Selecting a video will bring it up full-screen and enable audio. There are buttons to pause, skip forwards and backwards five seconds, and to watch again at the end of the video. The next video in the tab – or if you’re browsing a creator’s profile, on their profile – will auto-play after five seconds unless you pause or replay the current video. This creates a lean-back experience where you can watch several different videos in a row without needing to do anything.

One other thing that I noticed is that some videos have a little ‘sponsored’ label on them while others don’t, but there doesn’t seem to be an information about how sponsored videos work on Shoploop or what differentiates them from the regular kind.

What about shoppability?

While you’re watching a video, a little product window will appear in the bottom corner that you can tap to shop the product. This will redirect you to the brand’s website with a little message notifying you that you’re being redirected; a tap of the back button will take you back to Shoploop (though this function doesn’t work as effectively if you’re using Shoploop in ‘app mode’ instead of a mobile browser). From there, the shopping and checkout experience is all the brand’s and not Google’s.

Shoploop notifies the user when they are being redirected to a seller’s platform. They can tap ‘Cancel’ or use their browser’s ‘back’ button to return to Shoploop. (Source: Google Shoploop)

This makes Shoploop more of a browsing and discovery tool than a shopping tool, but it’s still a move that places Google more squarely in competition with social platforms like Instagram and Facebook (Facebook Shops, anyone?). The experience is fairly seamless, and the videos are short enough to be ‘bite-size’ and snackable but long enough to show off the product and what it can do.

There were a couple of issues I noticed with important parts of the video being covered up by the product window, but these are teething issues that will probably be worked out as creators get more used to the format of Shoploop.

Google’s announcement about the release of Shoploop, written by General Manager Lax Poojary, attributes the inspiration for Shoploop to a ‘young commuter’ who was “silently scrolling on her device, switching between a social media app, YouTube, and an online shop”. This shows what Google is aiming for with Shoploop: your one-stop-shop for product inspiration, combining social media, video, and commerce. Or as the announcement puts it: “a video shopping platform for discovering, evaluating and buying products, all in one place.”

Google Shoploop: What do the experts think?

Is Shoploop a revelation, or just things we’ve seen before in a new package? I turned to three experts in social, commerce and influencer marketing to get their takes on Google’s new platform.

Collapsing the purchase funnel

Saradha Sethuraman, Ecommerce Business Director, OMG Transact:

“The launch of Shoploop is Google’s attempt to keep consumers inside its ecosystem to become aware, explore, create interest and convert customers – all inside Google platforms, rather than have them jump across multiple platforms.

“Typically, consumers research products across social media, YouTube, branded websites, ecommerce platforms before making a purchase. But with Shoploop, they would be able to find all the relevant content inside the same platform, from checking out products they like to completing the transaction.

“Is this new? Not really. Amazon is trying out something similar in the US called Amazon Live. The fact that this hasn’t extended to other markets makes me think that it is slow progress.

“That said, Chinese ecommerce platforms have seen huge success with live streaming and selling. For instance, last year on Single’s day, Taobao Live, the live-streaming unit of Alibaba, recorded sales of RMB 20 billion ($2.85 billion), accounting for around 7.5% of the group’s overall RMB 268.4 billion in sales. As a result, others are jumping on the band wagon including Facebook with Facebook Live, Instagram Checkout and Facebook Shops.

“So, what does this all mean? It’s about collapsing the purchase funnel to ensure customers don’t jump from one ecosystem to another. This consolidation or collapsing is set to continue between giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon to guard their users and have all the behavioural insights that come with it.”

Tapping into the power of influencers

Chloe Cox, Social Media Lead at Wunderman Thompson Commerce:

“Google Shoploop is an ambitious move to bring social media, video and eCommerce into one place at a time where online traffic is surging during the Covid-19 lockdown. With many platforms experimenting in ecommerce – Facebook Shops arguably being the biggest example – Shoploop will distinguish itself by tapping into younger shoppers through influencers.

“The power of influencers cannot be underestimated, especially as more than eight in ten consumers make a purchase based on influencers’ recommendations. Google wants to be the one-stop-shop for all video, social and influencer interactivity across a single shoppable platform, and it could certainly achieve that goal given the wealth of consumer data it sits on and the existing partnerships that it can tap into globally.

“For retailers and businesses, social media has always been a great way to generate brand and product interest, but when customers want to convert that into a purchase, they have historically been moved to another site. This causes friction and frustration in the customer journey and ultimately loss of sale.”

Sarah Penny, Head of Content at Influencer Intelligence and Fashion & Beauty Monitor:

“The launch of Shoploop in itself isn’t ground-breaking, as we’ve already seen Amazon launch a similar platform, Amazon Live (also Instagram’s latest releases with shop are likely be heading in that direction). What is particularly interesting is the move by large tech firms to invest and develop dedicated platforms to smoothen the transactional process between influencer video content and product purchase.

“This action itself speaks volumes for the recognition by key platforms on the value and persuasive power of influencer marketing. We have seen that content that is informative and teaches an audience has always performed very well, and this has only accelerated through the pandemic. Increased time on social has gravitated towards informative content such as demonstrations and tutorials, all which lend themselves very well to video content.

“The true value of influencer marketing comes from tapping into the influence that a content creator has over their audience, earned from their audience through their expertise, talent and knowledge, which is what these platforms are really tapping into. Also, the physicality of video content has always performed well within influencer marketing as it allows content to be conveyed verbally and authentically to an audience, and its realness only enforces the message.

“The fact that tech platforms are improving transactional processes, only goes to show that there is a real recognition of the opportunity that influencer marketing can provide towards not just awareness, but much lower in the funnel with direct influence to purchase.”

Owning the consumer – and the social experience

Chloe Cox, Wunderman Thompson Commerce:

“Over the past decade, Amazon has dominated the ecommerce landscape, owning much of the interface and the customer. We know that if you own the customer, you own the data. And if you own the data, you own the future. Google’s model has always centred around advertising and through Shoploop it will provide a hyper-personalised experience that keeps customers on its platform for more than just social media.

“There has never been a more crucial time to invest in social media and for retailers and brands to take charge of their social media strategy. There is a huge emerging market for internet giants to tap into if they can strike the right balance between innovation and ease. It’s a no brainer in a world where a fifth of consumers look for inspiration to purchase online from social media channels and buy 3.5 times a month through those platforms. It’s a step into a future where social media, influencers and ecommerce becomes forever interwoven.”

Influencer marketing is here to stay

Sarah Penny, Influencer Intelligence:

“The beauty industry has always led the way when it comes to influencer marketing. The process of demonstration, showing application of cosmetics and skincare correctly via content that audiences and consumers can learn from, has always enabled beauty to lend itself really effectively to video content.

“Beauty brands saw early on the value and rate of return by working with content creators, so the move by Google to test out Shoploop on the beauty industry really shows that influencer marketing is here to stay as a dedicated and effective marketing form.”

How can brands prepare for Shoploop?

Saradha Sethuraman, OMG Transact:

“To ensure brands are prepared they should be thinking about the following:

  • Do they have the right/relevant products – with the right content, price points for this channel?
  • Can they sustain interest with new content creation or influence content to be created for them?
  • Do they have the right infrastructure to support live shopping experience – from content to payment solutions to logistics and delivery mechanisms?
  • Do they have a data strategy in place to assimilate insights, learn and scale this to make a significant impact?”

The future of Shoploop

It’s early days for Shoploop, and the platform’s success will ultimately hinge on whether it’s a hit with consumers – but as a small-scale experiment, it might not even need that many users to give Google valuable data about engagement, dwell time, and conversion rates that it can use to either scale up Shoploop or inform future ventures. The investment from Google is relatively little compared to the potential benefits.

A look at Google’s application form for creators also provides some valuable hints into where Shoploop is headed. One section of the form lists Shoploop’s content categories – which includes not only Beauty, but Fashion, Home & Garden, Art & Crafts, Electronics and Toys & Games, suggesting much bigger plans for a more diverse array of content.

The form also contains a question, ‘Are you willing to host livestreams?’ which suggests a move into live commerce territory – as Saradha Sethuraman pointed out, this medium is already hugely successful in China and its arrival is long overdue in the west. Facebook’s Shops announcement hinted that it would also be moving into shoppable livestreams, so we could see Google, Facebook and Amazon each with a different horse in this race.

We’ll have to watch this space for more information from Google and Shoploop, but there’s lots of potential here if Google can play its cards right.

For more on this topic

Explore Econsultancy’s Social Media Best Practice Guides and Ecommerce Best Practice Guide, or visit our sister brand Influencer Intelligence for more insight into influencer marketing.