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Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr.
Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr.

Google is close to launching “buy” buttons to enable customers to pay and check-out for products without ever having to leave the search engine, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The move will allow the search engine to compete more rigorously with Amazon and eBay, especially when it comes to being a shopper’s first stop on mobile phones. But believe it or not, with this move, Google is not trying to become a retailer — it’s only trying to defend its status as an advertising behemoth.

Here is Google’s plan:

  • The buy buttons will first start appearing on mobile devices when someone conducts a product search.
  • The buttons will only appear for paid search results, not on items that turn up based on Google’s basic search algorithm.
  • If shoppers click on the buy button, they will be taken to a product page, where they can choose size, color and shipping and payment options.
  • The products will still be sold by the retailers, and the pages will heavily reflect the retailer’s brand.

From what is known so far, the major indication that the buy button is about maintaining its advertising business — and not about becomming a retailer — is this: Google will be paid by retailers through its existing advertising model. It will not take a cut of sales, which is how most marketplaces like Amazon’s and eBay’s work, the WSJ reports.

Google is getting ready to replace the "shop" button with a "buy" button on mobile phones.
Google is getting ready to replace the “shop” button with a “buy” button on mobile phones.

Currently, retailers pay Google to promote their products within its search engine through a program called product listing ads. Although Google does not break out revenue from product searches, those ads are considered some of the company’s most lucrative.

But just because Google isn’t trying to become a retailer doesn’t mean that this isn’t all about fending off Amazon.

Most of Google’s advertisers are companies trying to sell products to users who are looking for those products via Google. When a user clicks on one of their ads, that user goes straight to the advertiser’s online store.

Because many people are now conducting searches on their phone, and many of those retailer’s websites aren’t optimized for the mobile web, consumers are getting frustrated with the experience. As a result, they are not completing as many transactions as they used to, and increasingly going directly straight to apps or to Amazon.com.

A previous report in the WSJ from December said Google was also considering rolling out two-day shipping perks, which would work similarly to how ShopRunner charges customers $79 a year for unlimited two-day shipping across multiple sites, or how Amazon charges $99 a year for Prime. But the most recent story didn’t mention potential timing on that piece.

google-shopping-expressOf course, Google still has a long ways to go before it can become a marketplace. Retailers are undecided on whether to embrace the changes. On one hand, a buy button could increase purchases because it streamlines a cumbersome process. On the other, they fear the move will weaken their relationship with customers.

The WSJ reports that Google is trying to make the proposition less risky for retailers by allowing consumers to opt into the same email marketing programs they would have been exposed to on a retailer’s site, and letting retailers recommend other things to buy on the product pages, for instance.

Of course, this threat to Google has been around for many years, but it’s likely getting worse as phones and tablets are used for everyday activities. On mobile, Amazon has its own app, and while Google is one of the more successful mobile companies out there — with things like Maps and Android — it’s true that Google’s main revenue machine boils down to a search bar in a browser.

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