Google may be serious about launching its own retail stores or just feinting in that direction, but one thing is clear: the digital giant isn't through trying to find new areas of the online universe to dominate.
Target No. 1 may well be automotive retailing. There's been lots of attention lately to Google's other significant venture having to do with automobiles—"self-driving" cars—but Google seems far more likely to make big strides in the car-selling process online more quickly than it does in programming your car to drive you to work.
Google is poised to expand its fledlging online car-shopping service to dealers throughout California and also to enter more states, Automotive News reported. Dealers in the San Francisco Bay area have tested the service since last summer; consumers can browse dealers' inventory and check vehicle prices without leaving Google search pages, the magazine reported.
It's still illegal for automakers to sell vehicles directly to consumers online. As independent business owners powerful in their own right, traditional American auto dealers have been able to protect that crucial part of their industry franchise.
But dealers also increasingly have learned to be effective in peddling their inventories and custom-ordered vehicles with a big dose of help from the internet. More than 90 percent of car buyers begin their shopping online, Automotive News said, and two of every three visitors to a typical dealership's Web site arrive from a Google search page. Consumers often can fill out and get a decision on credit applications, for example, before they ever step foot in an auto showroom.
Still, internet car dealing remains something of a wild west. There are a number of highly relied upon sites for vehicle information, comparisons and reviews, including Edmunds.com, Autotrader.com, KBB.com and Cars.com. So, Google would like to consolidate and simplify the whole process by, naturally, keeping car shoppers on its pages rather than passing them on to those sites, to auto brands' web sites and to dealer sites.
That's not going to happen without a little friction, though. According to the publication, some dealership general managers who have participated in the pilot aren't wild about it. Google shoppers can call dealerships anonymously, they say, limiting the usefulness of a Google-generated sales lead and the Google service limits how many times a dealer can follow up with a potential customer.
If Google ever wants to sit atop the world of automotive retailing the way it does online search and newer ventures, it'd better get with pleasing auto dealers. The likes of GM, Ford, Toyota and other brands haven't been able to do business without a meeting of the minds with America's most inventive bunch of retailers and Google might not be able to, either.