The run-up to big tech launches always involve a lot of rumors, questions and speculation. This seems to be even more the case when it comes to things related to payments, perhaps because of the inherent technical and business-process complexity of products such as Apple Pay. And it is certainly true with Google’s plan for a new service called “Google Buy,” which came to light last Friday in a feature story in the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal’s reporters did an excellent job of ferreting out information about the latest initiative of the search giant, and explaining what it likely is all about. In short, Google Buy will – at least initially – involve the placement of small buttons (marked “buy”) alongside sponsored results in mobile search queries. The buttons will lead users to Google-hosted pages designed to better facilitate mobile e-commerce sales by merchants. Meanwhile, the article says that Google will in some cases collect payments on behalf of merchants, though without collecting transaction fees in addition to any advertising costs.
But what is known about Google Buy seems to be vastly eclipsed by what is unknown, with some of the most significant open questions as follows:
- Is Google introducing this product because it has come to the conclusion that mobile users are unlikely to ever become comfortable clicking through its ads and completing transactions on the websites of e-tailer advertisers?
- How much of this consumer reluctance is about payment security, and how much about these other kinds of “friction” inherent to the mobile web experience?
- How will Google maintain a balance between its offered payments “layer” and advertising merchants who want users to pay them directly?
- Would Google include PayPal, Apple Pay and other competing payment services on these pages?
- What data will merchants get if users pay Google rather than the merchants? How robust will the customer opt-in/opt-out of data-sharing be? Will users have the option of opting in or out on a per-merchant basis, or just one “master” option? And how will they comply with the different legal environments around the world surrounding data collection and privacy? (In the European Union, companies cannot pass on consumer data to other companies without the knowledge and explicit approval of the user.)
- In the case of transactions where the payment is handled by Google, how will it handle post-purchase issues, such as product returns?
- How similar will the automatically-generated pages be to the “Product listing ads” (PLAs) that currently appear in Google’s search results? Could this approach of “gatekeeping” outside e-commerce sites add to the company’s antitrust issues in the European Union – and potentially lead to similar problems in other regions? (PLAs are at the core of the EU’s antitrust complaints.)
- Is this the first step in rolling out Android Pay? How does it relate to Google Wallet? Will users be automatically enrolled in one or the other if they choose to complete a transaction by paying Google rather than the merchant?
- How is it related to the company’s experience with Google Express? (The shopping and quick-delivery service currently available in handful of large US cities.)
- If Google is really about to make great things in e-commerce, why are some of its key people leaving?
No doubt some or all of these questions will be answered when Google Buy officially goes live. Though given the complexity and velocity of change in the e-commerce and payments space, they will quickly be replaced by new ones. Stay tuned.