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February 6, 2006

GBuy - Google to compete with PayPal

When Jeff Jordan learned last May that Web-search leader Google Inc. was building its own Internet-payment service, he reacted swiftly.

Mr. Jordan, who is president of eBay Inc.'s PayPal online-payments unit, immediately asked employees to unearth information about the Google service. Soon, PayPal employees were monitoring blogs, news reports and other data for information about Google's progress in payments. PayPal staffers even gleaned details about Google's plans during regular calls to customers who were eager to dish about how Google had reached out to them.

"It's a very legitimate competitive threat," says Mr. Jordan, 47 years old. "It's hard not to pay attention to what Google is doing."

While Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt confirmed in press accounts that the company was building a payment service, Mr. Schmidt also denied it would directly compete with PayPal. Mr. Schmidt said Google didn't intend to offer a "person-to-person, stored-value payments system," which many people consider a description of PayPal's service.

Mr. Jordan says he and his team immediately "dissected the wording" of Google's statements. He says he doesn't believe Mr. Schmidt. In the past, Mr. Jordan says, Mr. Schmidt had denied Google would roll out a payments service, only to take it back later. "We took [the comments Mr. Schmidt made] as 'Thou doth protest too much,' " says Mr. Jordan.

Long the Internet's leading online-payments service, PayPal has a 24% market share of U.S. online payments, according to financial-institution consulting firm Celent LLC. PayPal, founded in 1998, boasts 96 million accounts with consumers who want to send payments online without revealing their credit-card or banking information to vendors. To use the service, customers simply set up an account with their credit-card or bank-account details, fill out a payment amount and the email address of the recipient, and send the payment via the Internet to PayPal. If the recipient doesn't have an account, he simply opens one in order to collect the payment. The service gained traction on eBay and proved to be more popular than an in-house payment system it had been using.

For eBay, which acquired the online-payment business in October 2002, PayPal has been a big asset. The unit has helped accelerate trading on eBay's auction sites in the U.S., Germany and the United Kingdom. Most recently, PayPal generated 23% of eBay's total $1.3 billion quarterly revenue. And PayPal's revenue is growing steadily: It was up 48% to $304.4 million in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier.

But PayPal must now contend with Google. The Mountain View, Calif., Web-search giant, which has terrified Silicon Valley with its ability to quickly create new consumer products and services, is developing a rival service called GBuy. For the last nine months, Google has recruited online retailers to test GBuy, according to one person briefed on the service. GBuy will feature an icon posted alongside the paid-search ads of merchants, which Google hopes will tempt consumers to click on the ads, says this person. GBuy will also let consumers store their credit-card information on Google.

From Wall Street Journal.

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