Google makes push to turn product searches into cash

Google's New York offices. The internet search company hopes that a new program will help retailers capture more purchases on desktop, cell phones and smart home devices with voice search - the next frontier if e-commerce. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2018
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Google makes push to turn product searches into cash

NEW YORK: Google routinely fields product queries from millions of shoppers. Now it wants to take a cut of their purchases, too.
The US technology company is teaming up with retailers including Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Costco Wholesale Corp. and Ulta Beauty.
Under a new program, retailers can list their products on Google Search, as well as on the Google Express shopping service, and Google Assistant on mobile phones and voice devices.
In exchange for Google listings and linking to retailer loyalty programs, the retailers pay Google a piece of each purchase, which is different from payments that retailers make to place ads on Google platforms.
Google’s pitch to retailers is a better chance to influence shoppers’ purchasing decisions, a move that is likely to help them compete with rival Amazon.
Google hopes the program helps retailers capture more purchases on desktop, cell phones and smart home devices with voice search – the next frontier for e-commerce.
The previously unreported initiative sprang from Google’s observation that tens of millions of consumers were sending image searches of products, asking “Where can I buy this?” “Where can I find it?” “How can I buy it?” “How do I transact?” Daniel Alegre, Google’s president for retail and shopping, told Reuters exclusively.
Over the past two years, mobile searches asking where to buy products soared by 85 percent, Alegre said. But the current default choice for many consumers is a Google search that ends with an Amazon purchase, analysts said. The new Google program, Shopping Actions, will be available in the US to retailers of all sizes and could help retail chains keep those customers.
“We have taken a fundamentally different approach from the likes of Amazon because we see ourselves as an enabler of retail,” Alegre said. “We see ourselves as part of a solution for retailers to be able to drive better transactions ... and get closer to the consumer.”
For consumers faced with a surfeit of choices, the idea is to make online buying easier by giving them a single shopping cart and instant checkout — a core feature of Amazon’s retail dominance.
Retail chains can also offer products through the Google Home voice shopping device, holding on to those who may be headed to Amazon for better deals and giving them personalized recommendations based on previous purchase history.
For example, a shopper looking for sneakers on Google on his phone can see a retailer’s listing and add that to his Google Express cart. Later, the customer can stand in the kitchen, and use the Google Home voice device to add paper towels to the same cart and buy everything at once.
Retail partners saw the average size of a customer’s shopping basket increase by 30 percent, Alegre said, pointing to early results from the Shopping Actions program.
Ulta Beauty’s average order value has jumped 35 percent since partnering with Google, CEO Mary Dillon said. Ulta sells makeup and skin care products from brands such as MAC, Estee Lauder and Clinique.
Over the past six months, Target said the number of items in shoppers’ Google Express baskets have increased by nearly 20 percent, on average, as a result of its tie-up with the Internet company.
The retailers are also eager to get in on the rapidly growing voice shopping market dominated by Amazon’s popular Echo home device, analysts and consultants said.
Both Walmart and Target last year struck deals to appear in search results via Google Home.
Smart voice devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home will be installed in 55 percent of US households by 2022, according to Juniper Research. Amazon’s Alexa platform could generate $10 billion in revenues by 2020, a separate report from RBC Capital Markets estimated.
“Brands are looking at Google as the enemy of the enemy and that makes Google their friend,” said Guru Hariharan, CEO of retail technology firm Boomerang Commerce, referring to the competition between Amazon and chains like Walmart and Target.
Target shoppers “love the ease and convenience of making their Target run without lifting a finger by using a voice interface,” Chief Information and Digital Officer Mike McNamara said.
“This is just the beginning for Target and Google,” he added.
Target shoppers will soon be able to link their online account and loyalty card with their Google accounts and get 5 percent off on purchases and free shipping, McNamara said.


Comcast outbids Fox with $40 billion offer for Sky in auction

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp and co-chairman of 21st Century Fox, arrives at the Sun Valley Resort of the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 10, 2018 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Comcast outbids Fox with $40 billion offer for Sky in auction

  • Disney agreed a separate $71 billion deal to buy most of Fox’s film and TV assets, including its existing 39 percent stake in Sky, in June and would have taken full ownership after a successful Fox takeover

LONDON: Comcast beat Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox in the battle for Sky on Saturday after offering 30.6 billion pounds ($40 billion) in a dramatic auction to decide the fate of the pay-television group.
The US cable giant bid 17.28 pounds a share for control of London-listed Sky, bettering a 15.67 pounds-a-share offer by Fox, Britain’s Takeover Panel said.
Buying Sky will make Philadephia-based Comcast, which owns the NBC network and Universal Pictures, the world’s largest pay-TV operator with around 52 million customers.
Chairman and chief executive Brian Roberts has had his eye on Sky as a way to help counter declines in subscribers for traditional cable TV in its core US market as viewers switch to video-on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon .
“This is a great day for Comcast,” he said. “This acquisition will allow us to quickly, efficiently and meaningfully increase our customer base and expand internationally.”
Comcast’s knock-out offer thwarted Murdoch’s long-held ambition to win control of Sky, and is also a setback for US entertainment giant Walt Disney which would have likely been its ultimate owner.
Disney agreed a separate $71 billion deal to buy most of Fox’s film and TV assets, including its existing 39 percent stake in Sky, in June and would have taken full ownership after a successful Fox takeover.
Comcast’s final offer was significantly higher than its bid going into the auction of 14.75 pounds, and compares with Sky’s closing price of 15.85 pounds on Friday.
Comcast believed it needed to deliver a knock-out blow given that Fox’s existing stake in Sky gave it a chance of victory if it was a close second to Comcast, two sources said.
Comcast’s final offer — more than double Sky’s share price before Fox made its approach in December 2016 — quickly won the backing of Sky’s independent directors on Saturday.
“We are recommending it as it represents materially superior value,” said Martin Gilbert, chairman of Sky’s independent committee. “We are focused on drawing this process to a successful and swift close and therefore urge shareholders to accept the recommended Comcast offer.”
Fox will now concede defeat, a source told Reuters.
It is reviewing options for its stake, a holding that stems from Murdoch’s role in the creation of the company nearly three decades ago, the source said.
Fox declined to comment.
Comcast, which requires 50 percent plus one share of Sky’s equity to win control, said it was also seeking to buy Sky shares in the market.

HUGE PRICE
One hedge fund manager who holds Sky shares said nobody could complain about the Comcast price.
“The question now is if Fox actually sells out and if not can Comcast get to 50 percent,” he said.
Another hedge-fund manager said it was a “huge” price, and shareholders would accept it.
Sources familiar with the matter said Fox, Disney and Comcast had not been in discussions about the 39 percent stake.
The quick-fire auction marked a dramatic climax to a protracted transatlantic bidding battle waged since February, when Comcast gate-crashed Fox’s takeover of Sky.
It is a blow to 87-year-old Murdoch and the US media and entertainment group that he controls, which had been trying to take full ownership of Sky since December 2016.
Murdoch’s son James, currently chairman of Sky, was instrumental in building the company into the leading European pay TV group, with operations in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy, and more than 23 million customers attracted to its top-flight sport and entertainment content.
Sky’s chief executive Jeremy Darroch said it was the beginning of a new chapter. “Sky has never stood still, and with Comcast our momentum will only increase,” he said. ($1 = 0.7648 pounds)