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What is Google’s plan for BufferBox? And should Amazon be afraid?

Google claims it did not acquire Waterloo's BufferBox to compete with Amazon. Should we believe them?

Google claims it did not acquire Waterloo’s BufferBox to compete with Amazon. Should we believe them? Just before the holiday shopping season got underway, Google’s VP of Shopping, Sameer Samat, jokingly awarded himself the title of “Least Popular Dude”.

Samat was anticipating retailer reaction to changes made to Google Shopping last October, just in advance of acquiring Waterloo-based self-serve parcel delivery company BufferBox.

The two moves, taken together, suggest that Google is gearing up to compete with other prominent online retailers in 2013, acting as more than just a search-engine go-between, and actually physically providing a one-stop retail experience for people in search of goods.

Previously, retailers hoping to showcase their wares on the world’s most popular search engine were accustomed to uploading their data feed to Google Shopping and having their products displayed for free, a service for which they will now have to pay. “Free” advertising now consists of a retailer’s ability to score well in Google’s organic search on its main page. And with that shifting of the goal posts, Google Shopping is now officially a pay-for-play service, the lines more clearly established for its upcoming contest with independent internet retailers.

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Outside its University of Waterloo locations, BufferBox services only the GTA and Hamilton areas, but will obviously expand in a hurry with its newfound Google Money. As good an idea as it was to place BufferBox kiosks in GO Stations and Toronto’s Union station (part of a recent deal BufferBox made with Metrolinx), how much easier and more normal seeming will delivery-on-command be when the things are scattered prominently through every mall, pharmacy, and grocery store in the land? Does the acquisition have as much to do with the fact that the larger company happens to live upstairs in Waterloo’s Communitech Hub startup incubator? Or is it part of Google’s plan to eventually become a virtual mall, despite their claims to the contrary?

One merchant who will not pay to be listed on Google Shopping is Amazon. Google’s recent moves may go down as the first shot fired in a long clash of the titans of 21st century digital retail. Yet it’s hard to imagine how Amazon will use its current resources to infringe on any aspect of the search engine king’s territory. Such is Google’s power against an opponent even as entrenched as Amazon is.

Taking a significant pre-emptive step into the future of parcel delivery certainly stakes Google’s claim in product delivery systems for people who can’t sit around at home all day waiting for a parcel to arrive, or who have horror stories of their own relating to home parcel delivery. You can already imagine a future in which home parcel delivery joins the list of obsolete modern annoyances as waiting for the cable installation guy to show up. Of these two futures, Google looks readiest to inhabit the least obsolete outcome.

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