Google today announced that it has renamed its store delivery service to Google Express and has expanded it to three additional cities—Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C.—while adding 16 more national brands. The service provides same-day delivery on some orders and comes with an annual subscription option. If all this sounds really similar to what Amazon.com offers, there's a reason: Google is gunning for Amazon.com.
So why would Google even bother trying to compete in this market? Simple: Amazon.com is its biggest competitor. In search.
"Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo," Google chairman Eric Schmidt wrote in a blog post last week. "But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon. People don't think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon ... they [Amazon] are answering users' questions and searches, just as we are."
To compete with Amazon—which bills itself as the world's biggest retailer—Google has designed Google Express in a familiar Googly way. That is, it aggregates goods from local and national stores and makes them available for delivery to online shoppers. Nonmembers pay $4.99 per order—with a $15 minimum order—but you can subscribe to the service for $95 a year (or $10 per month).
Availability is currently limited to just a handful of locations in the US: The San Francisco Bay Area, of course, and parts of New York City and Los Angeles, plus Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C. The town I live in abuts on Boston, but Google Express is not available here. Retail store selection has expanded too: Google now counts national brands such as 1-800-Flowers, Barnes & Noble, PetSmart, Vitamin Shoppe and Sports Authority as being among the ranks of retail stores from which you can choose. And there local and regional options, too. In Boston, for example, local supermarket giant Stop & Shop is represented.
Not sure you can leave the familiar embrace of Amazon? Google says that search is search, and that the variety of options available through its Google Express service—especially local options—put it over the top.
"If you are looking to buy something, perhaps a tent for camping, you might go to Google or Bing or Yahoo or Qwant, the new French search engine," Mr. Schmidt notes. "But more likely you'll go directly to Zalando or Amazon, where you can research models and prices, get reviews, and pay for your purchase all at once. Research by the Forrester group found that last year almost a third of people looking to buy something started on Amazon – that's more than twice the number who went straight to Google."
So it's understandable why Google might target Amazon. But let's not forget that Amazon is itself gunning for Google in ways that have absolutely zero to do with online retail goods sales. The firm is a leader in enterprise cloud computing services, and it recently bought gaming video service Twitch out from under Google's nose for just under $1 billion.