Check Out Google Checkout

Folks on the frontline say the new online transaction service is netting sales and cutting sales costs
Google Checkout is getting rave reviews from e-commerce vendors and industry watchers who advise merchants to get in the express lane and sign up now.

There's nothing more forlorn to the online seller than the thought of orphaned shopping carts, abandoned at the critical point-of-sale, filled with items and left in the ether with no explanation. Google Checkout makes online shopping easy by providing a single log-in to buy across the Web and by identifying secure places to shop within search result ads. This identification comes in the form of a Google Checkout badge, appearing on all sites using the service, designed so shoppers can quickly find and recognize those Google Checkout sites.

Like most small business owners, you're busy and likely scribbled "check out Google Checkout" on your list of "things to do" after the flurry of news announcements. ECommerce-Guide spoke to some "early adopters" already using Checkout: a merchant, Skates.com, an e-commerce software company, Volusion, and technology consultant Nick Temple, who is among the first to write a tutorial on the topic, called Google Checkout Secrets. They say Checkout is easy to integrate, works seamlessly, decreases shopping-cart-abandonment and can pare down the amount of money you spend on transactions.

Jump on the Google brand-wagon
"First and foremost," says Clay Olivier, Volusion COO, "Google Checkout results in more sales because people trust Google, and that trust will be shared with sites using it, you're getting that brand extension. And if you're looking at two sites, and one has a Google badge, that's one more reason to choose it over the other."

For the small business with a Web storefront, Google Checkout is particularly advantageous, Clay says, because it helps legitimize your brand. "The biggest obstacle to online shopping is trust," he says, "you're representing the product, but Google is ensuring security of payment, so it makes these small mom-and-pop sites look up-to-date and genuine, people will know it's a secure place to shop."

Aside from piggy-backing on Google's reputation, Olivier says, vendors with Google AdWord accounts benefit because the shopping-cart icon for the transaction service makes their ads stand out.

Volusion offers the service through links at its site and takes less than 10 minutes to add to an online storefront, says Olivier. "You log in, go into the store administration section, figure out shipping settings and hit save."

The perfect relationship: Low maintenance and trustworthy
Luanne Teoh, director of business development for Skates.com, originally a retail store that opened on Haight Street in San Francisco 31 years ago, backs up that premise. "We rent our shopping cart from Volusion and we've used Checkout since the first day, we were beta testers because when I heard about it, I jumped on it," says Teoh. "It works seamlessly."

She says Skates.com, which makes a one-page checkout system a priority, is already seeing sales from the service. "We don't yet have a percentage breakdown because it's so new, but the first day we had 10 orders. People trust the name. We have a lot of customers like grandmas who aren't tech savvy buying skates for kids and so it's cool that the trust is there. One customer clicked on the icon without even knowing what it was and then called us to find out what it was all about."

In addition to the trust factor, buyers weary of misplacing passwords on scattered PostIt pads finally have an alternative when shopping online. "From a customer perspective, it's a hassle to enter passwords at a bunch of sites," says Teoh. "This way it's all in one place, and it's protected."

Nick Temple, an e-commerce expert who unabashedly says "my specific passion is payments," spent a lot of late nights noodling around with Checkout. He tested the service, documenting each step with screen captures to finish Google Checkout Secrets, designed to show exactly how to implement the system on a Web site for maximum profits.

"If you've got one product to sell, it's simple integration, and you'd be able to set it up and take an order within 30 minutes," says Temple. "But it's powerful and can get complex if you want or need it to, for instance, if you get into extended shipping, taxes, or want it to communicate back to your site. It allows all of this, but doesn't force you to use it, so it's up to the merchant to decide."

For sellers with complex sites, Temple recommends using one of Google's e-commerce partners. "Volusion and Monster Commerce are great for small businesses, the others are more geared toward larger enterprises," he says. "If you haven't set up shop yet, you a pre-integrated solution is the way to go."

Since finishing the tutorial, Temple has added the service to some of his clients' sites and says they are also seeing more orders due to the streamlined transaction, but notes that even without an increase in sales, vendors can gain due to AdWord pricing. "If you spend a dollar in AdWords, say, Google gives you a $10 credit for free transactions. So on one account, I spent $500, that means $5,000 without fees, so all that goes directly to your bottom line whereas if you go through PayPal, it's 3 percent plus 30 cents per transaction." (Free transactions are based on monthly AdWord buys and if you don't advertise with AdWords at all, you're charged 2 percent plus 20 cents per transaction; for more information visit the Seller FAQ page.)


Our Favorite Google Game: Theories and Speculation
Amid the Checkout love-fest, however, one might wonder why Google is going to all the trouble to enter the online transaction sector. It seems like a lot of work to make a few extra bucks. Temple's theory is that Checkout will change the model for Web advertising so that vendors only pay when a sale is made, and therefore ensuring that ad dollars will continue to roll in to Google rather than other avenues.

"No one can second-guess Google, but we try anyway. My theory is that this closes the loop, you can track from the time you look at an ad to the sale and know to the penny how much the person spent. So you can get closer to a cost-per-action model of advertising (someone actually buys something instead of just clicking on the ad, called CPC, or cost-per-click advertising). Instead of paying for every click, you pay for every sale. Google can say, 'We'll deliver as many sales as you want, just tell us how much you want to pay' and everyone wins."

And why is Checkout being embraced by the online community and press, compared to MSN's ill-fated Passport and CyberCash's wallet idea? Temple says timing is everything. "The technology wasn't there six years ago, and neither was the trust factor. People trust Google, it's a friend, and people are much more comfortable buying online in general than they were in even 2000," says Temple. "Right now is a really great time to be involved in e-commerce, it's really going to take off."

Michelle Megna is managing editor of ECommerce-Guide.com.

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