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Google Shopping Express dips toe in same-day home delivery

Wants to ape Amazon and eBay, not Webvan or Kozmo

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Google will try to beat Amazon and eBay at their own games with a trial same-day home delivery service for online shoppers that will see Google-branded vans dropping off goods down the length of Silicon Valley.

Dubbed Shopping Express, the service will allow consumers to order goods from national retailers such as Target, Walgreens, and Staples, as well as a few local retailers, and have those purchases delivered to their door within the city of San Francisco, and down the Peninsula from San Mateo to San José.

"We're still working out our long-term pricing plan but early testers will get six months of free, unlimited same-day delivery. The pilot will expand as we work out the kinks," said Tom Fallows, product management director of Google Shopping Express.

It's a bold move for the search giant. Amazon already has its Prime fast-delivery service and has trialed same-day delivery before. eBay also lets people get their mitts on new purchases fast – but Google's move plans something somewhat faster.

Same-day delivery was an early choice of business plans in the dotcom bubble at the end of the last century. Here on the West Coast, Webvan was set up, while New Yorkers got Kozmo and Urbanfetch, which promised delivery within certain key cities. They all burned through VC cash and then burned completely out as uneconomic.

Google will have to come up with a pricing plan that makes a service like this viable and competitive, and that's going to take some doing. Amazon and others have built up a nationwide distribution system, and beating them is going to be both tricky and costly.

Google's key bet is that Shopping Express will bring free-spending customers back into its fold. At the moment, an Amazon buyer doesn't need Google for any part of a transaction, but this service could get the Chocolate Factory back on the web lists for people with money to spend.

The question is whether Google can do this economically. One idea discussed here in Vulture Annex is that Google might apply some of its self-driving technology to the problem in the future, and is using Shopping Express as a dress rehearsal – but there's no way risk-averse Californians will OK that just yet. ®

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