A new Google Shopping exec spent 15 years at Amazon: Here’s his plan to hijack Prime Day

Call Google the Switzerland of shopping. Albeit a Switzerland where retailers and brands need to buy ads if they want to appear at the tippy top of search results. — The New York Times

For more than 20 years, Google executives haven’t been quite sure what they wanted their Google Shopping search portal to be when it grew up.

A price comparison tool?

An actual product marketplace or online retailer that would compete with the likes of Amazon or Walmart or eBay?

A combination of the two?

For now at least, it’s made up its mind. And one of its executives, a former Amazon leader named Sean Scott, is trying to make the case that “it’s fiscally irresponsible to start your shopping anywhere else other than Google,” as he said in a recent exclusive interview with Fortune.

(If that “irresponsible” line sounds familiar, you might be an ecommerce nerd like me: Jeff Bezos once used a similar phrase in an annual shareholder letter, writing, “We want Prime to be such a good value, you’d be irresponsible not to be a member.”)

“We don’t have inventory, we don’t take payment, we don’t ship anything, we are really neutral,” Google’s Scott continued in the interview with Fortune. “And we’re just at it to show customers the best prices on the web from any merchant.”

Call Google the Switzerland of shopping. Albeit a Switzerland where retailers and brands need to buy ads if they want to appear at the tippy top of search results.

The timing of Scott’s pronouncement is not coincidental. In July, Amazon will host its annual two-day shopping event for Prime members, attracting attention not just from millions of shoppers around the web, but other merchants big and small that will also offer deals in an attempt to court some consumer attention.

Scott knows the power of Prime firsthand; he worked at Amazon for nearly 15 years, including as a vice president overseeing the online retailer’s core shopping experience. He joined Google in the fall of 2023 to run the consumer side of Google Shopping after a three-year stint at PagerDuty.

During Amazon’s Prime Day shopping extravaganza, Google searches for shopping deals actually surpass those related to travel or vacation, according to Scott.

So Google has been rolling out and expanding shopping features in its search engine to try to capitalise on the increase in shopping activity around the web thanks to Prime Day. It has rolled out a special deals section to highlight discounted items across the web, and has also expanded its price comparison tools, including a feature that will show shoppers special pricing that a retailer might be offering members of their rewards or loyalty programs.

Google is also touting its price-tracking features, which give shoppers the ability to get notifications if a product’s price drops at an online retailer, and also track the price of goods over a 90-day period to understand if a deal that Amazon or another retailer is touting is actually a good deal.

For Google, Amazon is both friend and foe. On one hand, Amazon remains one of the largest advertisers on Google, paying to place sponsored product listings at the top of Google search results to pick off shoppers that may have started their product search there rather than on Amazon itself.

But over the past decade, Amazon has become a product-search powerhouse itself, with more than half of online shoppers in the US beginning product searches on the everything store and less than half on Google.

As that has happened, Amazon has built a massive advertising business within its own shopping empire, generating nearly US$47bil (RM221.06bil) in revenue in 2023. Google’s core business, of course, is also advertising. A product search that begins on Amazon (or Walmart or Temu or Shein for that matter) is a product search that Google can’t monetise with ads. Part of the problem if you’re Google, or advantage if you’re Amazon, is that many Amazon customers that become reliant on the Prime shipping programme don’t price-compare or shop around except, perhaps, on expensive items.

Maybe more should. To be clear, Amazon has a reputation for low prices. Last year, for example, ecommerce analytics firm Profitero named Amazon the online retailer with the lowest prices for the seventh year in a row. (Note that a company like Temu wouldn’t be included in a research study like that one because it doesn’t sell brand-name goods across a wide selection of categories.)

But price-comparison research can indeed be worthwhile. I recently was in the market for an exciting purchase: an air filter for a furnace. For a variety of uninteresting reasons, I wanted to buy a single filter and not a multipack as I usually would. After wading through multipacks on Amazon’s search results page, I found a single filter for sale. It cost around US$18.

That’s quite high, so I turned to Google. A quick search turned up a US$6 filter being sold from a local Ace Hardware store, and a Pick Up Today badge further cemented my decision. Perhaps Amazon (or Walmart or another retailer) will show you a good price on many items, or the shipping speed you desire that matters more than saving money, but it’s hard to argue with the idea of clicking over to Google for a minute or two if the lowest price is what you seek.

And yet, other new digital shopping tools continue to launch, especially as a result of the generative AI boom. A startup called Daydream, for example, recently announced a US$50mil (RM235.17mil) investment from venture capital firms including Forerunner Ventures. Daydream is run by well-respected industry veteran Julie Bornstein and says it is building an AI-powered search engine for products. Mass retailers like Amazon and Walmart are also testing gen AI shopping assistants to further personalize the product search and browsing experience.

Shoppers also continue to get inspiration from influencers on video platforms like TikTok (which sells goods through TikTok Shop), Instagram, and Google sister-site YouTube.

But Google is investing in AI-powered shopping tools as well, from a virtual try-on feature for various body types and skin tones, to product-recommendation features.

In the end, though, Scott maintains that the goal is a straightforward one.

“We’re just trying to help the customer shop, opening your eyes to new selections and new merchants at great prices,” he said.

Are you a current or former Google or Amazon employee with thoughts on this topic or a tip to share? Contact Jason Del Rey at jason.delrey@fortune.com, jasondelrey@protonmail.com, or through secure messaging app Signal at 917-655-4267. You can also message him on LinkedIn or at @delrey on X.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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