Opinion

What does it mean if Google and Facebook dominate the future of e-commerce?

Richard ParkerDigital behemoths Google and Facebook are already owning an ever growing share of ad spend. Richard Parker explores what impact it have if they come to dominate the e-commerce market as well.

As Aussie retailers struggle to get e-commerce, let alone omni-channel right, and as John Batistich, marketing and digital Director of Westfield comments that while the internet dominates search ‘something changes at the buy stage’, it turns out the two biggest tech brands in the world (ish) aren’t sitting on the sidelines to watch.

Facebook has been experimenting with social commerce for years, but has finally reached a point where it can leverage its scale to set up a fully closed (and therefore infinitely trackable) eco-system.

It’s building out what it calls ‘Shops’ on Facebook Pages – essentially mini e-commerce sites that sit within Facebook’s walls. Combined with last year’s introduction of the ‘buy’ button, this effectively closes the loop between brand comms and direct response advertising – giving Facebook the ability to engage with consumers through the entire customer lifecycle.

Then factor in the company’s rumoured introduction of a virtual messenger assistant to help people research and buy products, and you add a further layer of sophistication to what could become an e-commerce powerhouse.

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, John Batistich. (He’s probably right, by the way, but my point is that retailers won’t have the battle for the consumer’s soul – and data – all their own way).

In a similar vein, Google is expanding its e-commerce efforts. Their ‘buy’ button – called ‘Purchases’ – is being tested on Google mobile search right now.

It’s a simple ‘Buy with Google’ or ‘Checkout’ button that appears below search results, and leads to a Google-hosted ‘brand site’ where – importantly – the transaction process is owned by Google.

Apparently the search giant will get paid per click on the button, rather than taking a slice of the transaction – at least for now. Google is also strengthening its shopping imagery by allowing users to swipe through shopping ads to see bigger and better product imagery.

No need for the user to leave the Google ecosystem at all!

Amazon of course has been driving sales through its marketplace for years, and is now driving online sales even further with its introduction of Dash, the button that allows you to re-order household goods at the click of a button without even opening up a browser.

So where does this leave the humble old brand e-commerce site?

It’s difficult to say. On the one hand, the UX bible says that if we can reduce friction in the user journey we’ll see more sales – and what all of these companies are doing does just that.

On the other, brand purists will tell you that only total control of the brand experience will do; and if retailers want to own customer data the brand website is a key data point.

A case in point is Telstra. Harry Lowes, general manager digital marketing, talked at the ADMA Festival of Marketing, Media, Analytics, and Advertising on Wednesday about Telstra’s programmatic approach, and the brand website is a key datapoint in the telco’s programmatic strategy.

Not only that, but due to privacy concerns, Telstra doesn’t allow customer data to leave its servers – precluding any data collaboration with closed third party datasets – such as Facebook’s user base.

Having said all of that, I’m going to come out for Facebook on this one.

I genuinely think that Facebook, through the newsfeed, has what is potentially the most powerful selling tool we’ve ever seen.

It won’t be cheap, but using Facebook to communicate big brand ideas, deliver valuable, audience focused content, and incredibly targeted sales messages in a completely controlled and trackable environment seems like every marketers idea of nirvana.

The only problem? It needs agencies to play together super-nicely.

Of course, agencies have had to do that to an extent for a long time – since the schism between media and creative at the very least – but working across even a single digital ecosystem like Facebook can require so many more skill-sets it’s frightening.

And whilst at Edge we’re building the skills to offer a genuine full service product to our clients, in truth I’m not sure any of the typical agency ‘silos’ we’re used to is ready to handle the entire piece end-to end.

  • Richard Parker is managing partner at content marketing agency Edge 
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