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How Would Google’s Same-Day Shipping Work, Exactly?

820597235_4b1c1408c2[1]Techcrunch reported this morning that Amazon might be getting some competition.Google is supposedly working on a same day shipping service:

Google is stealthily preparing to launch an Amazon Prime competitor called “Google Shopping Express.” According to one source the service will be $10 or $15 cheaper than Amazon Prime, so $69 or $64 a year and offer same-day delivery from brick-and-mortar stores like Target, Walmart, Walgreens and Safeway (though no specifics were mentioned by our sources).

When and if it launches, the product will be a competitor to Amazon Prime, eBay Now, Postmates’ “Get It Now” and even smaller startups like Instacart.

I don’t see how it would work.

Don’t get me wrong, Techcrunch has a good record for rumors and this one has a good chance of being true. But I can see several issues that tend to make me think the idea is impractical.

Leaving aside the fact that Google’s new service lacks the free content that I can access with my Amazon Prime membership (ebooks, movies, and TV shows) it also faces logistical and financial issues.

One problem I see is that most of my local stores don’t have good websites. I’ve bought stuff online from Walmart, but the websites for a lot of the stores in my area are barely adequate for checking the weekly ads. Many fail at basics like search and navigation (this includes major chains like Target), so I’m not sure they are really doing all that much business online.

But let’s set that aside; I might be the only experiencing these issues. And there is also a chance that Google will set up their own retail site that integrates with their partners' back end. (We could in fact be seeing signs of this in the Google Search results right now.)

That brings me to the supply issue. One reason I shop at Amazon is that I know they’ll have what I want in stock in a half dozen different colors. What local store (or aggregate of stores) can make that claim? Walmart, maybe, but that is only because they have their own extensive warehouses. But Walmart’s warehouses are too far away to offer same-day shipping, so that’s out.

And then there is the price differential. I shop at Amazon because they are invariably cheaper. Sometimes it’s not even Amazon that offers the best price; sometimes it is the third-party sellers. I don’t see how Google is going to match that.

Shipping would be another issue. Google is basically proposing to launch or hire a courier service in every area that they offer this service.  I’m not sure they are going to be able to negotiate a deal that is good enough for Google that would make the rumored $70 price tag possible. (Maybe they will collect a fee from the retail partners?)

Amazon hasn’t figured out how to do that, and they ship millions of orders a day. Oh, Amazon does offer same-day delivery in certain US cities but that costs extra.

But the one biggest issue with this new service isn’t whether it can exist or the fact it won’t offer the same content options as Amazon Prime.

I would never call the "Google Shopping Express" service an Amazon Prime competitor because when it comes to hardware Google is terrible at retail and customer service. I have heard far too many complaints for me to be comfortable with trusting them. They can’t even guarantee that they will ship their own stock in a timely fashion, nor do they apologize when the shipment is delayed.

If Amazon says an item will arrive in 2 days it will arrive in 2 days. I wouldn’t trust Google to make that promise, much less deliver an order the day it is placed.

Say what you will about Amazon, they know how to run a retail website. Google, not so much.

image by Thunderchild7


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Mike Cane March 5, 2013 um 3:34 pm

How’s that same-day delivery with B&N working out?

The shopping cart photo cracked me up.

flyingtoastr March 5, 2013 um 7:05 pm

BN has had same-day delivery in NYC for more than a decade now that works quite well.

Tony Hursh March 5, 2013 um 3:37 pm

"Many fail at basics like search and navigation (this includes major chains like Target)"

That’s likely exactly the thing that Google is bringing to the table.

"Google is basically proposing to launch or hire a courier service in every area that they offer this service. "

My bet would be on presorted merchandise distributed through existing UPS and FedEx services. A UPS truck picks up the morning’s orders at (e.g.) Target, and they’re at the UPS warehouse ready to go on the trucks for the afternoon run. It could work pretty fast, if the merchandise is barcoded and sorted before it even gets picked up.

Your points about Google’s (lack of) customer service responsiveness are well-taken. They’ll definitely need to change that attitude.

Ronald Scourfield March 6, 2013 um 4:02 am

I don’t know if I’m allowed to leave a link on here (first time posting) but before saying "If Amazon says an item will arrive in 2 days it will arrive in 2 days." please go to the Amazon Carrier Feedback Forums and see the pages and pages (going back years) of complaints of late and non-delivered items (most from Prime members) caused by Amazon’s increasing reliance on courier services such as OnTrac, LaserShip, etc. While Amazon always makes good on these missing packages, their ontime delivery record is slowly sliding away.

Nate Hoffelder March 6, 2013 um 5:44 pm

Do they make good on the delayed shipments?

I’ve only had shipping issues 3 times in 6 years (other than acts of god). Both times Amazon made up for the error.

Ronald Scourfield March 7, 2013 um 4:33 am

Hi Nate,

Yes, they do make good and re-ship, but many times they re-ship using the same "courier" and the same thing happens again! I gave up my Prime shipping due to this issue. What is most infuriating to those affected by these couriers (a growing number) is that. for whatever reason, Amazon will not address the issue other than re-shipping or refunding (and occasionally promotional certificates) and thus one or two day shipping is far from guaranteed. It is an ongoing problem and causing a growing amount of frustration and anger from loyal customers.

fjtorres March 6, 2013 um 11:11 am

These folks don’t quite understand what Prime is about.
First and foremost, Prime is a loayalty program for heavy users of the Amazon online shopping mall.
Second, it is an incubator/support service for Amazon’s digital businesses. Without Prime, for example, Amazon’s video service wouldn’t have anywhere near the mindshare it has.
The net result is that Prime is a cost center at Amazon, not a profit center.
So Google setting up an expedited-shipping service for partner vendors, will not be a true competitor to Prime.
If anything, it will make Prime look better by highlighting the added perks Prime customers get.
So I don’t see what the Google shipping club will offer to consumers other than "we’re not Amazon".

One thing it might achieve would be inspire Amazon to take the logical next step and either buy FedEx or merge with UPS.

Nate Hoffelder March 6, 2013 um 5:45 pm

That is true, yes. I would have mentioned it more but I got interested in the technical details about how the Google competitor would work.

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