A few years back, Amazon introduced a program called Prime, which allows users to receive free two-day shipping – and more recently, a range of free movies and e-book downloads – for a flat yearly fee. By most accounts, Amazon Prime has been extremely successful. So successful, in fact, that Google appears to want a piece of the action.
In a report today in the Wall Street Journal, Amir Efrati and Stu Woo write that Google is actively developing an e-commerce platform, similar in scope to Amazon Prime. The platform would work by "melding" Google's product-search feature with a "quick-shipping service" overseen by Google. Plug in the product name, in other words, and Google would make sure the product is on your doorstep in a matter of days.
"[S]ome retailers are interested in signing up for it, said people familiar with the matter," the Journal reports. "They said Google has pitched the project to big retailers that it has teamed up with in the past, a group that includes Macy's Inc., Gap Inc. and OfficeMax Inc." A Macy's spokesman confirmed the store had spoken to Google reps, but told the Journal that no concrete decisions had been made.
An Amazon Prime-like service would certainly heat up the intensity of the rivalry between Google and Amazon, who have both vied in recent years for control of the e-book market. Meanwhile, Efrati and Woo note, "Amazon has taken advantage of its gains to become a big seller of online advertising, encroaching on Google, which is the No. 1 seller of online ads on its search engine and millions of other sites."
But as Nigam Arora points out over at Forbes, even if Google finds a way to counter Amazon Prime, the search giant remains vulnerable to one very specific threat: Siri, the voice-activated assistant launched this fall by Apple. (Siri is currently available only on the iPhone 4S.) At present, Arora admits, Siri appears to pluck its results only from Yelp, Wikipedia, and Wolfram Alpha.
"[I]n due course, more specialized databases will become available on Siri giving better results for search queries in a much more natural way than what Google delivers... Apple’s Siri is changing habits of the users. Searching on Google is cumbersome compared to the elegance of Siri. It makes a Google search look like a horse and buggy compared to a car. When Siri can provide the correct answer to a question quickly, who needs Google?"