Google Inc., always coy about future plans, is showing stronger signs of interest in online retail.
Much of the Mountain View, Calif., company's interest in e-commerce appears to revolve around Google Base, a place for people to list nearly any type of digital content or any item for sale, making them searchable by Google.
While many experts see the service as a database for classified ads, competing against sites such as Craigslist, there are also signs that Google Base is evolving into an online retail platform.
Google is currently running a limited e-commerce test of the service, which debuted last October and is still in beta, with a small number of sellers. The participants were recently allowed to start accepting credit-card payments through Google, which has a how-to page available only to its sellers.
Google is apparently planning a big push in Europe, where online sales is experiencing double-digit growth rates.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Nikesh Arora, head of Google's European operations, said the company wanted retailers to submit to Google Base information on products and prices, which the company could index and package for consumers.
"Google Base is going to have a huge impact on retailers," Arora told the Financial Times. He also said that internal research by Google indicated that European retailers were dissatisfied with their online operations.
Asked Friday about its plans for online retail, Google declined to discuss the issue directly, saying that Google Base was not "a retail specific product," but could be used for uploading "a wide range of additional information, commercial and non-commercial, onto the Internet."
"There are many ways in which retailers can use the Internet to meet their customers’ increasing demands for information, including search advertising and uploading additional data onto Google Base, so it can be found more easily when users are searching on the Web," a spokesperson said in an email.
Nevertheless, Google and online retailer Amazon.com Inc., based in Seattle, appear headed on a collision course. As part of its interest in online retail, Google this month unveiled for book publishers the option of making books available only online. Amazon.com last year started offering books and portions of books for online reading.
In approaching Google's territory, Amazon.com last month was reportedly looking for beta testers for a possible contextual advertising network that would place third-party links to products on the online retailer's partner Web sites.
The program is believe to be similar to Google's AdSense, which is a network of Web sites that display links to Google advertisers. The links are for products and services related to the Web site's content. Google shares revenue from the advertisers with site operators.