Sunday, December 28, 2014

Post-Christmas Online Shopping Reflections: Amazon vs. Google

With Christmas and another holiday shopping season behind us, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the online holiday shopping experience this year.

No surprise, online shopping spend continued to increase this year. Latest estimates suggest anywhere from 14 to 16% YoY change per Bloomberg.

Like 39% of online shoppers (Source: Forrester), I start my shopping research on This is because the site is so easy to use, their production selection feels bottomless, there's tons of product reviews, their personal recommendations based on behavioral analysis are insightful, and last but not least...I'm a Prime member.

Meanwhile, Google only has 11% share. But it wasn't always this way. According to Forrester, in 2009, 24% of shoppers started on search engines like Google and 18% started on Amazon.

I still do some Google searches for a few reasons: when looking for a local store option to see or touch the product first or because I need it right away. But this season I have also used it more to try to find deals from big retailers not on Amazon. For example, for consumer electronics or gadgets, I like to see if or Frys,com has any special promotions. And Google gives me a quick way to do a cursory price check on many sites at once. But I have found that sometimes Google is not reliable because you may not see the latest product deals if the merchant's product feed to Google is not current or many retailers are running site-wide promos (e.g., Save 20% on entire order) that would not be reflected in any single product search. And the product details on Google is not as rich, even with their recent enhancements.

Google Product Details Listing

That being said, increasingly I find the number of Amazon Marketplace merchants seems to be growing a lot more. So if Amazon doesn't have it, one of these partner merchants do. Sure, large competitors like Best Buy, Target, or Wal Mart won't be on Amazon. But here's why I like the option to search among Amazon Marketplace merchants that has contributed to me using Google less for shopping:

  • I feel like Amazon has vetted these merchants but also it provides seller ratings for me to decide as well.
  • Unlike going to a merchant site directly that may have a sub-optimal shopping experience, Marketplace sellers' product listings conform to Amazon's shopping experience -- product details page follows Amazon's template, there's customer reviews from Amazon's large customer base, and I feel my online payment is more secure going through Amazon than a merchant I may not know
  • In many cases, Amazon helps fulfill these 3rd-party merchant orders and qualifies them for Prime shipping too
  • If anything goes wrong or I need to return the product, it's comforting to know I can work through Amazon and not a merchant I have not heard of before

But one lesson I learned after my disastrous Amazon #FAIL experience last holiday season was to stop buying online by the 19th to ensure all my gifts arrived on time. And they did!

And Google is certainly not standing still and ceding online retail to Amazon any time soon. Google Product Listing Ads (PLA) are very popular among retailers and make a ton of cash for Google. And the WSJ reports Google is working on a "Buy" button to keep shoppers on its site longer similar to Amazon's "One Click" button and not even click through to merchant sites. Also, Google is trying to stitch together an express shipping program like ShopRunner to better compete against Amazon Prime's shipping service.

With Google getting more aggressive, it won't be long now until Amazon starts accusing Google of manipulating its natural search results that make Google's product listings more prominent and negatively impact Amazon's rankings...much like how the travel industry and other review sites have complained to regulators.


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