25 Jul 2013

Helpouts, Google’s Secret Project That Turns Hangouts Into A Commerce Platform

While its roots lie in search, today, Google wears many hats. From self-driving cars and wearable technology to social networking and mobile operating systems, there are few industries where the search and advertising giant has yet to make its presence felt. Lately, however, Google’s expansion has taken a noticeable tack in a more singular direction: e-commerce.
With the outsized success Amazon and eBay have had building online marketplaces that seek to remove the barriers around buying and selling on the web, it was only a matter of time before Google decided to pull its chair up to the e-commerce table. Today, TechCrunch has learned via a tipster that Google has quietly been pursuing its marketplace ambitions under the auspices of a new platform that leverages its increasingly powerful cloud services to power live, real-time commerce.
The product, which has reportedly been named “Helpouts” and is currently being tested internally in Mountain View, will take shape as a marketplace that enables individuals and small and large businesses to buy and sell services via live video. With the capacity to connect merchants and consumers on both an immediate and scheduled basis, according to our tipster, the platform will allow sellers to create their own profiles and take advantage of reputation management, scheduling and payment features, while offering robust search and discovery tools for consumers.
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As its live video infrastructure is increasingly becoming the unifying backend for its expanding roster of real-time products, Google’s new marketplace will leverage Hangouts to deliver services via live video. To that end, the platform will also come integrated with what could end up being a handful of Google products, particularly its young virtual wallet and payment service, Google Wallet.
From what we’ve heard, Google began internal testing of the product in late June, but may be at least a month away from a public release.
In the meantime, from what we can gather from leaked mockups of Helpouts, the platform seems reminiscent of eBay’s recent efforts to expand its own marketplace with the launch of Secretguru, its concierge-style platform that allows merchants to offer a range of services directly to consumers — from business mentoring to beauty tips.
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Part of the reason Amazon has sprinted out to such a commanding lead in the e-commerce market is its growing network of fulfillment centers and distribution warehouses, which allow it to produce that magic, online retail bullet of low prices, convenience and speedy delivery. Without a fulfillment network, Google’s own local shopping ambitions seem to be taking a different shape. With Helpouts, Google, like eBay appears to be leaning into the territory of collaborative consumption marketplaces like, say, Zaarly, TaskRabbit and Live Ninja.
According to our source, Helpouts, like these startups before it, will cover a range of categories, including computers, education, food, health, hobbies and repair. One can then imagine services on Helpouts ranging from health consultations and fitness classes to appliance repair support and cooking lessons.

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