Is Amazon Google's Biggest Search Competitor?

Chris CrumSearch

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There was a time when Google considered Bing its biggest competitor in search, which probably makes sense to most people, as it's more of a direct competitor in terms of being a web search engine. It's actually Amazon, however, that Google considers to be its main competitor these days, and that's even strictly talking about search.

Do you believe that Amazon is really Google's biggest competitor in search. If so, does that mean Google has enough legitimate competition that it should not be regulated? Share your thoughts in the comments.

In 2010, then-CEO Eric Schmidt talked to Alan Murray of The Wall Street Journal about competition. At the time, he said, "What’s interesting is we think of neither [Facebook or Apple] as a competitive threat…our competitor is Bing. And it’s interesting, for years, people have asked about Microsoft and everyone has forgot about Bing."

He went on to call Bing a "well-run, highly competitive search engine," without even getting into the still fresh partnership with Yahoo (which came together after a Google/Yahoo deal was blocked).

Amazon wasn't really part of the conversation.

Two years later, the two companies' competition (again, strictly in terms of search) took the spotlight as The New York Times pointed out that more and more people were beginning product searches on Amazon while less were doing so on Google. In other words, Amazon was taking away searches from Google. Obviously the two companies compete in a variety of other areas as well.

This week, Schmidt gave a speech in Berlin where he brought up Google's competition with Amazon:

If you are looking to buy something, perhaps a tent for camping, you might go to Google or Bing or Yahoo or Qwant, the new French search engine. But more likely you’ll go directly to Zalando or Amazon, where you can research models and prices, get reviews, and pay for your purchase all at once. Research by the Forrester group found that last year almost a third of people looking to buy something started on Amazon -- that’s more than twice the number who went straight to Google.

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History has proven that size and past success are no guarantee for the future. Great companies can be surpassed swiftly. Look at Yahoo, Nokia, Microsoft, Blackberry and others who seemed unrivaled just a few years ago, but were disrupted by a new wave of tech companies, Google among them. Many of you are skeptical. I get that. You look at Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon and say there’s no way competitors can beat them. I’m less certain.

For one thing, these companies are each others’ biggest competitors, because in tech competition isn’t always like-for-like. Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon. People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon. They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches, just as we are.

Follow the above link for the full text of the speech, which addressed competition in a variety of other points.

As you probably know, Google is currently embroiled in a years-long antitrust probe in Europe, where the European Commission is waiting on the company to make more adjustments to its business. It remains to be seen where that situation is headed next.

Either way, it's interesting how Google's position on Bing (and traditional search engines in general) has changed over the past four years.

FairSearch, a group of Google competitors (including Microsoft), took issue with Schmidt's speech (obviously), and penned an open letter to him.

"Your main line remains: Google is not dominant, we have done nothing wrong, there is no case," it says. "As Europe awaits possibly yet another settlement proposal in the ongoing antitrust case in Brussels, this point of view does little to spark hope for a quick and effective settlement. What you, Mr. Schmidt, are actually saying about the competition investigations that span over four continents is: There is nothing to see here, please move on."

The part that specifically addresses Schmidt's comments about Amazon says: "But you Mr. Schmidt would rather talk about those companies you see as your competitors. Amazon or Facebook. The basic question remains though: Are you using your power in general search to promote your specialised search services, such as Google Shopping, your travel services, Google maps, and your insurance price comparison service, over equally good services or even better services from competitors? If so, you break European antitrust rules. It is irrelevant whether you have a formidable competitor with Amazon, when it comes to consumers looking for and purchasing goods. The fact remains that as long as you remain dominant in general search, you must not abuse this power by using it to unfairly promote your products in different markets. You must compete on the merits, just like others who in the past have been held to breach European antitrust law."

You can read the whole thing here. In fact, if you read both the speech, and this letter both in their entirety, you'll get a pretty good point-by-point rundown of the arguments in this whole debate. You might as well check out Yelp's tool while you're at it.

Where do you typically start your shopping searches? Google? Amazon? Bing? Yahoo? Somewhere else? Let us know in the comments.

Image via YouTube

Chris Crum

Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.