If you feel the urge today, you can pick up your smartphone and say to the Google Assistant, “Order my favorite soap from Target,” and you’ll be presented with a photo of the item, and a button to click to order it. According to Google, you can do the same thing today with a Google Home device to get any available item shipped to your door.
What Amazon has done is enable the Google Express shopping experience for Target stores, along with voice ordering using either the Google Assistant app or Google Home or Android Televisions. While Google Express already works with the Google Assistant on your phone, there may be some additional integration coming since today’s announcement by Google indicates that there’s more to come.
The move by Google and Target is another step in the effort by major brick and mortar retailers to find ways to take on Amazon in today’s retail wars. For the past few years Amazon has been gaining ascendency in retailing by making buying as convenient as possible, as cheap as is reasonable and with as easy delivery as possible.
For Amazon, this means you can get nearly anything you’re likely to want delivered in a day or two. In some areas of the U.S. this time has now been compressed into delivery within an hour or two. Where I’ve tried such delivery in the Washington, DC metropolitan area it has worked well.
But Google and its partners such as Walmart and Target know that there’s more to the world than those major metropolitan areas served so well by Amazon. People in those areas want free delivery in a day or two. They would like to be able to get the stuff they buy immediately get it shipped for free. This is what Google is doing with Google Express.
By adding Target, Google Express has added somewhat more upscale choices to what’s available, which makes sense given the new focus on voice ordering. After all, those customers already have to be willing to shell out fifty bucks for a Google Home Mini at a minimum to order goods. They’re going to want choices that reflect their interests.
Google Express is taking on Amazon in other ways as well. With Target, for example, you can get free two-day delivery on orders over $35. Plus you can use your Target credit card to get additional discounts. Members will also get personalized recommendations and fast reorder based on past buying history.
The idea here is to reduce the friction of buying as much as possible so that potential customers will shop through Google Express rather than through Amazon. What remains to be seen is whether it will work.
At this point, much of the Google Express network is still a work in progress. For example, Walmart has just announced that its full product line is available through Google Express. However, Target won’t deliver groceries via Google just yet. With Amazon, if you’re in the right area, you order are delivered in two hours.
On the other hand, there are all of those consumers that can’t use Amazon in this way, and Google Express can give them an alternate. You can, for example, order groceries from Walmart through Google Express. If you spend more than $35 you’ll get free two-day delivery. While this time frame rules out a way to satisfy your sudden cravings for Cherry Garcia ice cream, it provides options you can’t necessarily get other ways.
Google Express provides options for shopping at a lot of stores at the same time to get things that you can’t get from Amazon, or that you can’t get reasonably. To illustrate this, I tried ordering a jar of Bonne Maman strawberry preserves to use for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. While it’s available from Amazon Prime with two day delivery, the price is nearly ten bucks a jar.
Trying with Google Express from my office in Central Virginia, I can get the same jar for slightly more than $4. I also have a choice of multiple sources with varying minimum purchase requirements. Or if I just have to have my sandwich today, I can order the preserves with free pickup and just drive by the local Walmart store where someone will hand it to me.
You’ll probably note that none of these options is exactly revolutionary. That’s the part about voice ordering where the cool technology may not be able to overcome the other factors that add friction to the buying process.
While you can get a lot of stuff from Amazon Prime almost immediately if you live in a major metropolitan area, you can’t do it anywhere else. Instead, you have to wait for days and you’re limited in what you can get delivered. It may be that Google’s voice ordering and free delivery may become an important force. But it’s hard to see how Google or Amazon have solved the ordering and delivery issues everywhere across the country in a reasonable way.
For most retail customers, the retail revolution hasn’t arrived and it’s still a question when or if it will. Remember, ecommerce has been around for 160 years if you count ordering goods by telegraph. All that’s really changed is the speed of delivery for some items and the way that pictures of the products are delivered.
Despite the hype, the transformation isn’t happening outside of a few large cities. Right now it doesn’t look like it’s ready to happen yet, regardless of whether it’s Google or Amazon that’s listening to your virtual assistant.