Google just became Amazon's biggest competitor

Google is reinvigorating their marketplace product Buy on Google (formerly called Shopping Actions) by removing commission fees and giving control of the brand experience back to the hands of merchants. These updates represent a direct effort to compete with Amazon and evolve Google’s online shopping experience at a time when people are shopping online more than ever due to COVID-19 closing down physical stores and altering consumer habits.


The announcement made last week highlighted several major changes. Google showcased new payment service platform partnerships with PayPal and Shopify and also expanded data feed integrations within Merchant Center. Google also passed back responsibility to brands for managing customer support, shipping, and returns. Finally, Google has even created a solution which builds feeds directly from Google’s own database.  

Buy on Google will disrupt small and large retailers. 

A streamlined checkout process has several highlights that are covered in a bit more detail below.

  • 0% commission fees: This is a major change which will encourage all retailers to rethink their Buy on Google strategy.  A comparison that highlights the magnitude of this change:  Previous commission rates on Shopping Actions for apparel product categories was 12%!
  • Updated merchant and financial requirements: The requirements to sell on Shopping Actions are now gone and Google is pulling out all the stops to remove excuses for brands to not onboard. Marketers no longer need a US bank account after linking to GMC with an approved payment service platform account (PayPal and Shopify, to start with).
  • Barriers of entry have been removed: Google has relinquished complete control of payment transactions, managing customer support, as well as returns & shipping. Returning ownership of important brand-owned processes back to the retailer shows that Google is confident in brands meeting customer expectations for purchases made on Google Shopping.
  • Product feed integrations: Google Merchant Center is supporting non-Google product feed uploads, by their greatest ecommerce and marketplace competitor - Amazon.
  • Focus on supporting small businesses: Consumers will soon be able to filter and view products sold by small business merchants specifically.


What was missing in the announcement

Google has been slowly rolling out new features and updates over the past several months around other organic and unpaid feed-powered listings. Retailers activating on the Buy on Google program can also opt-in at the same time to these free Google products listings called Surfaces Across Google. The same product feed powers both programs so merchants not only have commissions removed for Google’s marketplace but their catalog will now serve across multiple shopping experiences without paid media. 

We predict that in the near future to see Buy on Google checkout options begin to show on organic search results, such as on the Knowledge Graph - a previously paid ad listing placement. While this experience is what we expect next, the details still follow suit on aggregating paid and free product listings to their specific ad placements across Google properties.

Shopping Actions:  A solution in search of a problem...until now

The Google marketplace (Shopping Actions) has struggled to burst through the bubble of mass adoption by merchants with spending the last seven years expanding and rebranding the program.

The removal of commission fees is a unique value proposition and explicit advantage against marketplace rivals like Walmart and Amazon, but also a deep benefit for small businesses that started digital ecommerce on eBay and Etsy. The payment system partnerships have made up for years of minimal merchant integrations. To compensate and attempt to counter Amazon’s two million+ small businesses already selling on that marketplace, Google chose to integrate the Amazon catalog into Google Merchant Center. This has never happened in the history of Google and is unprecedented. What Google now has is a data set of product information far more robust than their own catalog.

Shopify has a small business customer base of one million (and growing) on the platform which now brings a larger assortment of products, and new small businesses that have minimal reason to not now sell on Google marketplace.

What does this mean for your business?

Brands who have refused to launch on marketplaces like Amazon now have minimal hesitation to begin selling on Google. Nike has refused to sell on Amazon for some time due to not being able to own the customer experience.

Brands should focus on evaluating their media plan and product feed strategy. This would entail identifying product lines, seasonality SKUs, and less profitable products to be specifically assigned as eligible to serve in a marketplace, organic/unpaid listings or paid campaigns. This granular setup is especially important due to limited reporting features and forecasting features within the Google Merchant Center--feature gaps which will hopefully be addressed by Google in the future.

Google is placing a strategic bet on small businesses to lean into their marketplace by removing commission fees and reducing barriers to entry. These changes were driven by Google’s Bill Ready, a former PayPal executive, executive leader at Braintree & Venmo, and supporter of small business commerce for over a decade. When it comes to steering a ship such as Google marketplace in a new direction, his vision shows the understanding of how small businesses are driving the future of marketplace commerce.

However, even if the primary focus of these changes appears to be small businesses, if large brands don’t take the time to review their current Google Shopping approach and leverage these new features, they will be the ones missing out on a major commerce opportunity during this coming holiday season.