Last week news broke regarding Google’s plan to include buy buttons for mobile devices. These buttons would allow searchers to directly purchase a product from the search engine results page (SERP).

This change is a significant departure, as users are no longer required to follow this process:

Leave the SERP ——–> Go to the retailer’s site ——> Complete the purchase

Although the feature may eventually make its way onto desktops, it will first roll out on mobile devices. The details of the announcement further Google’s emphasis that mobile is the platform of the future.

Impact on Mobile Search

Google has pushed the importance of mobile over the past few years through enhanced campaigns, mobile-specific ads & extensions, and attempts to clarify the role of mobile in the search process. Despite the increasing impression share of mobile devices, it can be difficult from a PPC perspective when it comes to “making mobile work.”

Obviously many of the basics are the same regardless of the platform. The biggest issue is adjusting to user behaviors – such as a heavier emphasis on research modes in SERP use or attempting to bring mobile pages up to par with mature desktop pages.

Google has pushed the importance to mobile landing pages, but it can’t force website owners into creating device-specific pages. Even once the device specific pages exist, mobile site development can be hit or miss, depending on the device.

By creating a way to buy within the search engine, Google bypasses this problem entirely. Streamlining the buying process takes work off the searcher and centralizes the buying process.

As this feature rolls out it could also benefit smaller advertisers. By acting as the medium for purchase rather than offering the link, Google offers a tacit level of trustworthiness and endorses the retailer.

Initial Impact on Retailers

One of the most interesting facets of the news is Google’s reinvestment into user behavior. Rather than just offer relevant pages, Google wants to keep itself part of trends in buying process. Google doesn’t have any major competitors for overall impression share but this should ensure that Google continues to be the premier search engine, offering something their competitors can’t.

Google’s investment in search, whether it be tweaks to pages or updated Shopping campaigns, encourages users to stick with the platform (the amount of traffic does not hurt either). No matter how great an ad is there is always a group of users that hesitate to make the purchase. Some will come back but others will buy from another retailer in a future search.

By allowing purchases right at the point of search, competition should increase. Advertisers have incentives to make that first stage as enticing as possible through great feed information and high-quality images. This both helps proactive advertisers garner additional sales but also encourages the behaviors Google is looking for on the ad network.

Initial Impact on the Market

More importantly, this change slows the encroaching forces of large ecommerce platforms such as Amazon. You might think, “is Google looking to become a store?” No, it is not, but this feature is an effort to keep product searches on Google rather than another site.

As Amazon continues to build it’s own platform, it promotes the value of its ads by highlighting the growing number of users who start researching products here. This news is worrying for Google as it makes traditional search engines less relevant in the ecommerce game as well as hurts ad sales.

Along these lines, retailers may, if not reluctantly, continue to see Google’s interests aligned with theirs. Of course, the SERP means competition, but it at least keeps these retailers in contention, which won’t happen when users use Amazon from start to finish.

Long Term Consequences

The announcement brings both excitement and worry. A shorter path to purchase is almost always a positive for the consumer. Although the platforms are different, it is similar to the feeling of skipping the brick and mortar store and opting for an online purchase. You don’t have to deal with the confusions or idiosyncrasies of the store or staff, but you still get your product. Everyone wins right?

Not necessarily. While streamlining the purchase is great for the consumer the effects on business themselves is still unknown. With a nearly instant purchase, the user never directly interacts with the site. On one hand, this could help the smaller retailers edge out larger competitors who are able to invest more resources into their sites. It isn’t about the most flash or polish, but rather the best offer.

Unfortunately, there is no basis for making this assumption that everyone benefits. By encouraging the purchase up front, it creates more incentive to put more effort on early stages of the buying cycle. In the short term, at least, CPCs increase as competition increases.

Rising CPCs are in no way the death knell of SMBs, but it does require advertisers to set aside more money for the same amount of traffic. This is a gamble at first since conversion rates might ultimately be higher, but the fact remains that larger retailers are more likely to have excess funds set aside to gain early control of the market.

Although I didn’t show much sympathy for brick and mortar in the opening paragraph, I don’t mean to ignore the benefits either. Although buy buttons are pro–consumer, it reframes the interaction between consumer and seller. I mentioned that the ability to buy early puts more emphasis on securing the better offer, but not every benefit can be shown through an ad.

You can’t assume that buyers only look for a sterile pathway to a product; there are instances where who matters more than what. The seller does matter. I don’t mean just the people but all the components that fall under the UX and branding category.

A visit to the website gives a potential buyer:

  • Insight into the retailer
  • Who they are
  • What they offer
  • What sets them apart

Oftentimes it isn’t just the price but the other perks or experience offered by the specific retailer.

For example, you may frequent smaller hobby shops because they understand and support the hobby unlike a larger store that leaves you to pick up the pieces when something does not work as intended.

To sum it up, an ad can’t encapsulate everything a seller offers. The focus on a third party transaction through Google limits the opportunity to convert customers on more than just the product. No one wants to advertise for every product they sell.

Many businesses focus on creating long term, lifetime value, rather than competing for one sale at a time. By limiting the contact with the brand/retailer, the buyer is less capable to making that connection, potentially decreasing lifetime value.

Final Thoughts

Only time will tell. It’s nearly impossible to predict how new features will unfold. There is even the chance that these buttons have limited impact. It should be interesting to see how this unfolds though. Google is the premier search engine but how will it compete against it’s newer non-search competitors?