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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Flipkart’s Move to Dump Mobile Site Could Hit Google

When visitors head to Flipkart’s mobile site, they are directed to the company’s app.
Indian e-commerce giant Flipkart has decided it doesn’t need to rely on the Web to lure shoppers, dumping its mobile site and pushing visitors to its app. That move may spell trouble for the future of Google's cash-cow search engine, which relies heavily on links to shopping sites.
Smartphone users that go to the mobile websites of either Flipkart or its sister site Myntra no longer see the same virtual store shelves as when they visit those sites from a personal computer. Instead they see a message to download the sites’ mobile apps.
The problem for Google is that a large percentage of its ad business is driven by paid links that direct users to e-commerce sites. But mobile apps are walled gardens unto themselves, unconnected by links to the broader Web.
The more smartphone users get used to shopping inside mobile apps, instead of navigating to e-commerce sites via their phone’s browser, the less they need Google search to find what they want  to buy.
And the trend may be especially pronounced in emerging markets like India, which Google hopes will power future growth. Since many of those users may come online for the first time via smartphones rather than PCs they may be trained to use mobile apps more than the Web.
For Flipkart, mobile accounts for about 75% of traffic today, up from single digits a year ago, according to a spokeswoman.
When people use its app, they remain logged in, making checkout faster. Also Flipkart can connect with customers via push notifications.
“We are constantly experimenting with various aspects of our service to create the best shopping options and experience for our users, the Flipkart spokeswoman said.
Google is working to retrofit its search engine technology for mobile apps. It has a team that is working with companies to “index” the content of their apps and then using a technology called “deep links” to help connect the apps’ content to traditional search results.
Several sites have enabled indexing within their apps, including Walmart ,Yelp, Pinterest and Buzzfeed. But the entire process is slow-going. Google can’t simply unleash its search engine spiders to crawl and index apps the way it can with websites. And smartphone users must already have the apps installed for the deep links to work.
A Google spokesman said the company is working to add more features to search to help its users navigate apps.
Flipkart’s move also highlights why Google feels it needs to roll out more of its own “vertical” search sites like Google Shopping. Finding information in task-specific apps is proving easier and more effective in a number of categories, including travel, finance and local business information in addition to shopping. As that cuts into Google’s traffic, the company needs to offer its own users a simpler app-like experience that provides more of the information directly on its pages.

Flipkart itself has recently poached two prominent Google executives: Punit Soni a Google veteran since 2007, became Flipkart’s Chief Product Officer last month, and this week it hired Google Senior Director Peeyush Ranjan to be its head of engineering.
The change at Flipkart was earlier reported by Mint.

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