Google is getting serious about competing with Amazon in online shopping — just as it did in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019.
But in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip America, the push to create an online shopping marketplace to compete with Amazon has taken on new urgency as consumers are avoiding stores and turning to the internet to fill more of their shopping needs.
On Thursday, Google announced that it would take steps to bring more sellers and products onto its shopping site by waiving sales commissions and allowing retailers to use popular third-party payment and order management services like Shopify instead of the company’s own systems. Currently, commissions on Google Shopping range from a 5 percent to 15 percent cut depending on the products.
Google is usually the starting point for finding information on the internet, but that is often not the case when consumers are searching for a product to buy. More consumers in the United States are turning first to Amazon to find products that they plan to purchase. This has allowed Amazon to build a rapidly growing advertising business, which is a threat to Google’s main financial engine.
Google’s seven-year battle to take on Amazon has had more lows than highs. In 2013, it started Google Shopping Express, a service offering free same-day delivery. It offered $95 annual memberships for faster delivery, and it tried delivering groceries. Google eventually scrapped the efforts.
Google Express evolved into an online mall filled with top retailers like Target and Best Buy. In 2017, it added Walmart to its virtual mall, but the partnership was short-lived. Last year, Google ditched Google Express for Google Shopping and introduced a buy button to allow shoppers to use credit cards stored with the company to complete the transaction without leaving the search engine.
This year, Google brought in Bill Ready, a former executive at PayPal, to be its president of commerce and to compete more successfully with Amazon.
Google announced in April that it would allow anyone to list products for free on its shopping site, reversing its previous policy of requiring sellers to buy an ad for products to appear. The company also announced that those free listings would appear on its search results. By eliminating the cost of listing and selling products, Google aims to make it more appealing for retailers to put products in front of the search engine’s enormous user base.
In an interview, Mr. Ready said most retailers were already lagging behind in e-commerce before the pandemic hit. And as more consumers moved to shop online in recent months, the gap has widened with much of the growth in online sales swallowed by a handful of players.
“We want to make sure selling online is easy and inexpensive,” he said.
The changes are expected to start immediately in the United States before rolling out to other countries this year. Google also said sellers that had an inventory of products listed on Amazon could move them over to Google without changing the data format.
While all of Google’s moves are clearly aimed at unsettling Amazon, Mr. Ready wouldn’t address its Seattle rival and refused to utter the A-word even once in a 20-minute discussion. (He even dodged a question about what is the name of the giant rainforest in South America.)
The closest he came was not very close.
“Consumers benefit from a diverse and thriving ecosystem of sellers,” he said. “There is no one player that can serve all the needs of consumers.”