Google is launching a test of a new service that allows online shoppers in the San Francisco Bay Area to make purchases online and get same-day local delivery through arrangements with a growing number of area retailers.
The new delivery service is being piloted by Google to collect customer reaction and see how it works on a small scale to start, according to a March 28 post on the Google Commerce blog by Tom Fallows, product management director for the project.
"Today we're starting a new experiment, Google Shopping Express," Fallows wrote. "It's a local delivery service that we hope will make it possible for you to get the items you order online the same day, and at a low cost. It's incredibly early days and so the service is only available to a small number of people in the Bay Area."
The same-day delivery service initially will feature the opportunity for online shoppers to make purchases from larger retailers that have stores in the Bay Area such as Target, Walgreens, Staples, American Eagle and Toys 'R Us/Babies 'R Us, as well as smaller local retailers like San Francisco's Blue Bottle Coffee, the Bay Area's Palo Alto Toy & Sport and Raley's Nob Hill Foods.
The idea, Fallows wrote, is that shoppers will be able to make everyday purchases without having to make their own shopping trips all over town.
Consumers who wish to join the test pool for the start of Google Shopping Express can sign up online, he wrote, but interested participants must live in the city of San Francisco or on the peninsula from San Mateo to San Jose. The program will initially be free for participants in the pilot, but will feature delivery charges in the future.
"We're still working out our long-term pricing plan but early testers will get six months of free, unlimited same-day delivery," Fallows wrote. "The pilot will expand as we work out the kinks, so please stay tuned."
Test participants must be at least 18 years old to participate. By signing up as testers, participants will receive emails featuring product promotions, new merchant additions and other details about the program, according to Google.
To use the service, shoppers will be able to browse the Websites of participating stores, make their item selections, provide personalized delivery instructions for the couriers who will bring their packages and get their items delivered on the same day, according to the service.
Google is also continuing to seek additional local retailers to join the program and add more shopping options for its online customers.
The fledgling Google delivery service was first rumored in early March as a way for the search giant to expand more into the turf of online retailer Amazon.com.
Under the program, Google apparently will arrange for third parties, such as couriers, to pick the products up from local stores and deliver the items to shoppers.
Google is always looking for ways to expand its markets, and the retail world is closely aligned with its search services as consumers go to Google to search for products, which they then purchase elsewhere.
The concept of expanding its reach into retail sales could help Google close that gap.
Gene Alvarez, an analyst with Gartner, said earlier this month that such a service could help Google better take on Amazon if it involved these kinds of same-day deliveries from local retailers.
"What's happening is that people want it now" when they buy online, he said.
When Google eventually begins to charge shoppers for the service, he said, the company will have to offer a spectacular deal if they want to challenge Amazon's existing $79-a-year Prime delivery service.
Google certainly has been experimenting with e-commerce for a long time, with its Google Payments, Google Wallet and Google Checkout products. In February, Google bolstered its online sales capabilities by acquiring Channel Intelligence, which lets consumers buy products directly through product pages on Websites. One of the company's products, its Buy Now app, allows online retailers to show potential buyers a dynamically updated list of online retailers that have the advertised product in stock, where the consumer can purchase the item instantly with a click.
In October 2009, Amazon launched same-day delivery services in seven major U.S. cities as it expanded its buying options for its customers.
This is not the first time that Google has dabbled with the idea of same-day delivery. The idea has at least been in discussions since late 2011, when the company began its Google Product Search service.