The Long—Make That Really Long—Goodbye To Google Checkout

Written by Evan Schuman
May 22nd, 2013

Is Google Checkout finally ready to checkout? We know all about the traditional Hollywood fondness for the long goodbye scene, but even by movie standards, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is pushing it. Google has been trying to say goodbye to GoogleCheckout for years. It was mid-June 2011—just about two years ago—when Google officials threw in the towel on Google Checkout publicly, admitting that it was being allowed to “stagnate through a starvation of marketing and engineering resources.” That’s a slow death scene that Cleopatra would have been proud of. (We ran a story back in 2009, asking if a then-recent fee increase was “the dying gasp of Google Checkout.”)

Yes, it’s the same goldie oldie plot: Search Engine Loves Payment App, Search Engine Loses Payment App, Search Engine Prays That No One Finds Payment App, Search Engine Wonders If It Can Get Away With Doing A Jodi Arias On Payment App.

On Tuesday (May 21), Google again tried killing Google Checkout. In a “We really mean it this time. Dead. We promise” statement, Google said: “Today, we’re letting web merchants know that in six months, Google Checkout will be retired as we transition to Google Wallet. Merchants can continue to accept payments using Google Checkout until November 20, 2013. If you don’t have your own payment processing, you will need to transition to a different solution within six months. To make things easier, we’ve partnered with Braintree, Shopify and Freshbooks to offer you discounted migration options. If you are a U.S. merchant that does have payment processing, you can apply for Google Wallet Instant Buy, which offers a fast buying experience to Google Wallet shoppers.”

First, six more months? Really? Is there some Guiness World Record being pursued here? Secondly, you’re offering to transition them to Google Wallet? This is so that the 11 people still using Google Checkout can commiserate with the 17 people who are using Google Wallet?

Google has one of the smartest bunches of employees of any company in the U.S. One drawback of having such a smart team is that Google has confidence in superior quality and simply assumes that better products will come out on top in the market. It forgets that shoppers can’t recognize superior quality and that rivals with weaker offerings will flood the market with more PR and advertising. Google Wallet, for example, truly is a superior wallet product, but neither Google nor its initial retail partners gave shoppers any concrete reason to make the switch. And then there was the bet on NFC, a move that will ultimately prove fatal, coupled with key carriers aligning themselves elsewhere. There’s also Apple opting to stay on the payment sidelines indefinitely.

Another attribute of having such a smart workforce is the extreme hesitation to fully kill anything. Who knows? Maybe someone will figure out a way to make it work in a year. Just shove it away in a corner and let’s see what happens.

Two years ago, we were asking a Google exec about what was going to become of Google Checkout. Asked if Google Checkout would be killed or whether it would simply get a lot quieter, the exec laughed and said that, in recent years, “we’ve spent zero time on marketing [Google Checkout] and zero dollars on consumer awareness. I don’t know how much quieter we can get.”

The senior Google-ite said at the time that Checkout was likely doomed by some ill-advised decisions early on, especially those involving major chains. “The initial failing was the decision to go after the big merchant, to argue to them that the landing page should be on Google instead of” the retailer’s own site, the exec said. “You can’t tell [major retailers] that the user experience is more important than the merchant site. They’re never going to agree to that.” She added that Google was “naive about large retailers at the time.”

A key part of Google’s corporate philosophy has been “fail fast,” which means attacking a project with gusto to quickly determine whether it will work. If it doesn’t, the effort is theoretically abandoned. Added the exec: “I don’t know that we failed fast enough” with Google Checkout. Given that the utterance was made 24 months ago and the product has another six months left, it failed all right. But it’s hard to imagine it could have failed any more slowly.


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