June 7, 2012

If Google+ Local and Google Shopping Made A Baby It Would Be Beautiful

Google is mixing things up on the retail and business fronts with Google+ Local and Google Shopping. Google+ Local made a big splash as a replacement for Google Places. On the very day of its launch, reportedly 80 million Places listing were automatically moved to Google+ with the ability for business owners to claim their page. This new face of local listings comes in a form of a tab in Google+ that features a separate page for every local business. If the owner claims the page, he/she can use it to communicate with his users just like any other G+ page can, making the listings a much more social affair. This update also integrates Zagat's 3-point ratings and expert reviews. As always, it's hard to do justice to Search Engine Land's reporting, so check out their detailed coverage of the G+ Local features here.

Google Shopping is a less-covered project, since it did not yet launch. And again, we defer to Search Engine Land to cover the details of the initiative. Basically, Google Shopping is a rebranding of Google Product Search and a way to unify Google's ecommerce and advertising efforts. What makes it different from Product Search is that Product Search sucks. No really. It's not completely useless, and, as Mr. Sullivan points out, when you can't find some obscure item on Amazon, you can often find it on Google PS. But it still sucks. Listings are often outdated. Prices are incorrect. User reviews are sparse and shallow. And there are no quality controls to speak of. Google Shopping will control quality by making partners pay up. The idea is, if a business pays to be included, it has a vested interest in keeping the listing up to date and accurate. This is similar to Apple's approach to selling apps. It's much harder and costs more to be an iOS developer than an Android developer. Thus, iOS apps are regarded as being of higher quality because people who are not serious about app design are filtered out.

While these updates are impressive all by themselves, the mind of an avid Google enthusiast can't help but wonder... What's next? Why, in the world where Google+ is being used to unify and socialify our Google universe, is there no mention of social integration in Google Shopping? And what if the two services came together?

What we would have is Google+ Shopping. A new G+ tab that will bring us Amazon-style shopping results, Zagat-style ratings, Offers-style discounts and coupons, and personalized suggestions based on our own shopping history and on our friend's recommendations.

Every local business will continue to have its own Google+ Local page and ever major brand will still be able to set up a G+ brand page. Except, these pages will now be able to sell products directly, using Google Wallet. Much like with Product Search today, each product will have its own page with its own ratings and reviews. The product pages will link to their parent pages (the business or brand pages). Right next to existing links for "About," "Posts," "Pictures," and "Videos," each local retailer or large brand will feature a "Shopping" tab which will be a social storefront for all its products.

As with Google Offers today, businesses will be able to use Google+ Shopping to provide coupons, discounts, and even check-in offers.

At this stage, Google+ Shopping is purely hypothetical. But given Google's dedication to social and the bold move to fold Places into Google+, I will be amazed if the Big G is not thinking up ways to plussify shopping. Since we still don't know all the details about the upcoming switch to Google Shopping, there is a good chance G+ will be part of it from day one. But even if this doesn't happen right away, it will happen eventually. Social shopping is taking off in a big way. Google will be a fool to ignore this an opportunity.

It may not happen exactly how I described. In addition to Product Search, Google already has two other storefronts: Google Play and Chrome Web Store. These two will come together eventually. But even that merger will be tricky. Consolidating Google+, Google Shopping, and Google Play will be even tougher. And if Google cannot bring them together but still launches Google+ Shopping, they will force shoppers to choose between two different platforms.

However, one thing is clear. Google is taking ecommerce seriously, and they're taking social seriously. They will become one. The question is, will it be successful?