Is Google gunning for Amazon and eBay?
New York Times report that Google has hired a former eBay executive as vice president of commerce.
Stephanie Tilenius has been tapped for the new position, about which next to nothing appears to be known. Miguel Helft wrote:
"People close to Google said Ms. Tilenius would oversee Google Checkout, the company's online payments system, and other e-commerce efforts. Her hiring suggests a push by Google into online commerce, though it is not clear exactly what Google's plans are."
I think we know what Google wants to do in e-commerce. As the leading search engine, Google wants to maintain and grow share versus Microsoft Bing, which has been gaining share, and Facebook, which pretty much owns the social sector of the Web.
Google wants to be wherever there is a lucrative opportunity online, and e-commerce represents one such huge opportunity. Google CEO Eric Schmidt regularly references e-commerce searches, including retail and travel, as main traffic drivers online.
As Helft correctly alludes, lots of Amazon, Wal-Mart.com, Best Buy and eBay customers already get to Amazon and eBay through Google. Perhaps Google wants to stop being that middleman and start leveraging that action beyond search keyword ads.
Does this mean Google is going to start selling lots of stuff, like those companies? Could be. Google would need to strike up a lot of distribution relationships to make that happen, and we have no evidence that is in the works. And it would have to build a solid customer service support network, which would be a huge undertaking.
Google could be doing this and we just don't know about it. The point is, we can no longer be surprised at what Google does related to the Web.
The company has shown, particularly in the last two years, an increasing comfort with expanding into new areas. Anything that has to do with the Web is fair game.
Google went after Facebook and Twitter with Google Buzz last week, even if that turned into a mini privacy debacle.
In trying to describe Google's gradual, but ever broadening expansion online, I've taken (annoyingly so) to referring to Google in commerce analogies.
I asked Drummond what it was like trying to compete with Google, telling him that Google is aiming to be the Wal-Mart of the Web.
Drummond acknowledged the challenge, noting that his own mother often says, "Google it" when someone needs information. Drummond added:
"It's the age-old, large established company, new, nimble startup tension. Google has an entrenched brand promise of a clean, spare, empty search box and anything that comes between me and that clean, empty search box is pretty uniformly crapped on by people out there on the Net. Their brand promise does a really good job of solving that problem."
Millions of people already "Google it" when they want to find someplace to buy something online. Who is to say people won't go to Google to buy stuff?
Three years ago, no one could have known Google would have its own phone. Who is to say Google won't directly challenge Amazon, eBay, et al., three years from now?