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Is Google’s Buy Button Good for Retailers?

Google: It’s where more than one billion monthly users turned last year to learn how many calories are in a banana, search for tips on wearing scarves and to familiarize themselves with headline-grabbers like Ebola and ISIS. And soon the search engine giant could be where consumers go to shop, too.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google plans to add “buy” buttons in the coming weeks that will allow mobile users to purchase products that pop up in sponsored search-results displayed under the “Shop on Google” heading—where it currently shows pictures, prices and external links—without leaving the site itself. It’s a smart move considering the Mountain View, California-based company recently announced that most of its search traffic now comes from mobile—and smaller smartphone screens mean less space for ads, Google’s main moneymaker.

A source familiar with the launch told the Journal that Google won’t show buy buttons when shoppers search on desktop computers and the company will kick-start the roll-out with a small percentage of the search traffic it handles. A list of retail partners has not yet been confirmed, but Macy’s is reportedly in talks to take part in the launch.

So how does it work? The products will still be sold and shipped by retailers, not Google, but if shoppers click on the buy buttons, they will be redirected to another Google product page to complete the purchase, rather than to the retailer’s mobile commerce site. On that page, they will have the opportunity to pick sizes, colors and shipping options, and complete their purchase. Unlike Amazon and eBay’s online marketplaces, Google won’t take a cut of sales, but will be paid through its existing cost-per-click advertising model.

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Whether smartphone shoppers will be comfortable using Google as a retail outlet—or storing their credit card information with the world’s most-trafficked search engine—remains to be seen, even with the obvious ease of one-click mobile shopping. Furthermore, will retailers welcome the call-to-action feature or view it as another competitor in the overcrowded e-marketplace?

“If Google puts a buy button next to the ads, it will still be tracking data,” said Shep Hyken, customer service expert and founder of Shepard Presentations, in an online discussion amongst RetailWire’s BrainTrust panel of retail industry insiders on Monday. “I’m sure the retailer who has a good pay-per-click campaign that sees conversions (sales) go up will be delighted.”

Matt Schmitt, president and chief innovation and strategy officer of Reflect, echoed this sentiment: “Google, with its buy button, is aiming to minimize the friction associated with mobile purchases, including the fragmented browsing and ordering processes currently experienced by consumers. Shoppers may embrace this [move], especially for impulse purchases of products they know they want.”

But Max Goldberg, president of consultancy firm Max Goldberg & Associates, was cautious. He noted that combined with the possibility of the company retaining most of the customer information, a buy button may not be the remedy retailers need.“[A buy button] may make it easier to buy, but Google cannot guarantee a satisfactory customer experience like the one offered by Amazon.”

“If Google has a way to pass that data on to retailers, then I can see this being a win for all,” said Arie Shpanya, CEO and co-founder of Wiser. “Improving sales with an easier checkout experience would be great for retailers, but losing the sales data would be the biggest downside.”