Google is a company that controls upwards of 90 percent of search through its many online properties and has been the subject of investigations that have accused the search giant of giving priority placement to its larger advertisers. It's also a company that is eager to expand its cloud hosting business, which runs a distant third behind leaders Amazon and Microsoft. To achieve this objective, it's rolling out specific industry tools that it hopes will entice retailers to migrate their applications to its servers.

The latest example of this strategy became public this week with Google's release of new tools at the National Retail Federation's annual conference specifically geared toward big-box chains.

"Staying viable in the retail market today means using technology to solve big problems," the company's cloud CEO, Thomas Kurian, wrote. "Google continues to innovate and provide industry-specific tools that help retailers not just keep up with the competition, but also to win the ever-changing race."

He's not kidding. This week retailers got a first look at three big new services. The first is an expansion of the company's Customer Reliability Engineering, which Kurian describes as a "white-glove service that helps retailers plan and execute flawlessly during their peak shopping seasons." In other words, the kind of top priority support that's been enjoyed by customers like Kohl's and Wayfair.

Google is also now piloting a specialized, internal search product called Google Cloud Search that will help its retail customers "offer high-quality product search results for their websites and mobile applications--giving them the ability to surface the right product." In addition, the company released a blueprint and best-practice guide called Google Cloud 1:1 Engagement for Retail, which aims to help retailers build better, more personalized analytics about their customers' buying habits.

These tools are great. But isn't there something missing?

In addition to Kohl's and Wayfair, the company's announcement highlighted customer successes enjoyed by (of course) some of the world's largest brick-and-mortar and online retailers, including Lowe's, Carrefour, Zulily, and Stitch Fix. Good for them. But what about small merchants?

There are hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pop stores and small retailers nationwide. But unfortunately most of them won't be able to benefit from these powerful services. Why? It's because these tools are geared toward big-box retailers that have the resources to fully leverage them. Can you blame Google for focusing on these larger brands? Sadly, I can't. The big-box stores have big-box budgets and big-salaried employees to make these things work.

So is Google ignoring mom-and-pops? Not entirely.

There is one bright spot for smaller merchants in Google's strategy. In his blog, Kurian did mention that Google's cloud tools have also benefited Shopify, an e-commerce platform that currently hosts about 800,000 small-business stores worldwide. I'm sure that Shopify--and its competitors using Google and other platforms--is planning to leverage these tools for its small-business customers, if it's not already doing so.

But Google does need to be careful. It's already been accused of favoring big advertisers in its search results. Now its retail cloud strategy risks further eroding Google's credibility among the 30 million strong small-business community that buys, hires ... and votes.

Providing tools that will only serve to help big-box stores kill their smaller, mom-and-pop competitors will not play well on Main Street. 

Published on: Jan 16, 2020