Sunday, March 28, 2010

Google's new VP of Commerce

The e-commerce World is buzzing with a related change in the senior ranks of eBay and Google. Stephanie Tilenius was the General Manager for all of eBay North America and announced her departure September of last year (2009). Stephanie has laid low since then, but popped up back on the radar in a big way this week as the new 'VP of Commerce' at Google which is a newly created position.

When asked what she's going to be doing at Google, she states:

"...overseeing development of digital content and commerce in the cloud, plus she’s responsible for everything commerce-related, including product search and payments. This means she’ll be in charge of Google Checkout, the online payments system that rivals eBay’s PayPal. With all the new devices coming out for consumers, she says, there’s huge opportunity for innovation in mobile and local commerce."

At ChannelAdvisor we have the opportunity to work with most of the senior management teams of eBay, PayPal and Google. We've known Stephanie since she was on the PayPal side of things and worked directly with her on PayPal Express Checkout. When she made the move to the eBay/marketplace side of the house, we worked even more closely with her. In fact, Stephanie was one of our keynotes at last year's Catalyst event.

Knowing Stephanie for many years, I am really encouraged by this move on a couple of levels and discouraged on others. Let's look at it from the eBay and Google perspectives.

What does this mean for eBay?

This is not good for eBay. You have one of their most senior execs that not only has the PayPal off-eBay (merchant services) playbook in their head, but also the marketplace business in their head as well. The only worse defection I can imagine would be the PayPal CEO going to Amazon payments or Lorrie Norrington or John Donahoe doing the same.

You have to ask yourself why they would allow this to happen in today's World of non-competes and what-not.

What does this mean for Google?

To date Google's e-commerce efforts have been a second-thought at best. Google checkout came out of the gate strong, but seemed to lose support internally as other Adword related areas of the company required more attention. The Doubleclick acquisition and focus on display advertising took Google's thoughts even further from the world of e-commerce.

This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for Microsoft. According to the January comscore data, Bing continues to take share from weaker rivals (Yahoo!, AOL, ASK), and also for the first time, Google. I believe the secret to their success is Bing Cashback and first forecasted that as a potentially fruitful strategy back in June of 08.

So I view this as an (admittedly early) signal that Google is finally realizing they have a gaping strategic hole in their lack of a cohesive e-commerce / retail vision and they have found one of a handful of people that could really help them take it to the next level. It would still be a moderately positive signal if they created the position and put someone from say, the AdWords team on there. It's extremely positive to me that they realized their internal shortcomings and lack of insight and experience in the world of e-commerce and tapped someone outside the company to fill those holes.

Stephanie has an uphill battle, but think of the assets she can bring to bear:

  • 65% search market share (US - higher in other geos)
  • Dominant position in mobile (android, apps and search)
  • Google product search - already one of the top CSEs by traffic and definitely has wide retail adoption
  • Google checkout - Has some good technical underpinnings, but lost strategically
  • Other google assets - billions of dollars, millions of advertisers and of course an army of brilliant engineers.

What next?

Once Stephanie gets her sea legs, we'll try and get an interview for the blog and certainly will keep you posted on any happenings in the world of Google's e-commerce efforts. It will also be interesting to see if we have any more eBay/Google flare ups from this high-profile departure.

You can read more about Stephanie's career moves here:

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