Hands On: Google's New Checkout Service

Chances are good that at least once you've been ready to make an online purchase, only to abandon it after being thwarted by the Web site's ordering process. The new Google Checkout service looks to close the sale by making online order placement foolproof.

Although its e-commerce roster is short on big names, Google's new order-processing service, which started today, makes placing and tracking your online purchases easy.

My first Google Checkout transaction--a purchase from service partner CD Universe--went smoothly, although I wasn't provided with the shipping options I've come to expect from online vendors. I suspect the little green Google Checkout cart will soon be all over the Web.

Universal Checkout

Google Checkout partner sites show its green shopping-cart icon, which you click to place your order. At Buy.com, it's in the upper-right corner of the page.
Google Checkout partner sites show its green shopping-cart icon, which you click to place your order. At Buy.com, it's in the upper-right corner of the page.
The Web has long needed a universal checkout process. eBay's PayPal and other online payment services rely on the various "shopping cart" applications of the Web sites they serve. While browser add-ons such as Siber Systems' RoboForm can complete much of the order-processing information that different sites require, they exhibit little consistency in the type and quantity of data they collect.

Also, as you place your personal information on more Web servers, your security risk grows. Last but not least, the Web forms themselves are often poorly designed: How many times have you had to reenter all the information in an order form because a single field was skipped or included invalid data?

The Process and Passwords

Google Checkout stores your credit card number, mailing address, and other ordering information. You can view all of the orders you place through the service on a single page, and Google limits how much of your information it shares with its vendor partners.

While having a single repository for all your orders makes makes online purchases much faster and simpler (and potentially more secure), Gmail users and other people already registered with a free Google service may have to beef up their security--one log-in name and password opens them all.

Until I signed up for Google Checkout, I didn't worry much about someone gaining access to my Gmail inbox, because it contains no sensitive data. The first thing I did after adding the Google Checkout information was to change my Google password, and I'll continue to do so regularly as long as I'm using the service.

Assorted businesses are now using Google Checkout.
Assorted businesses are now using Google Checkout.
The current roster of online stores displaying the green Google Checkout icon and order button includes such big names as Buy.com and RitzCamera.com, but the list is dominated by specialty stores such as All Barstools and Snorkel Bob (the combination of which could make for an interesting Saturday night). Joining the lineup soon, according to Google, will be Ace Hardware, Rockport, and Sports Authority.

My Experience

I placed my first Google Checkout order just minutes after signing up, buying two CDs from CD Universe for just over $10 each, including shipping, after entering a $10-off coupon code provided for Google Checkout users.

Google Checkout's Welcome page explains the process.
Google Checkout's Welcome page explains the process.
Seconds after placing the order, I received confirmation in my Gmail inbox, including a link to follow if I want to cancel the order, and another to track its progress. The only thing missing: an estimated time of arrival, information that Amazon.com and many other Web vendors provide when you place your order. (Okay, so they're not always so accurate, but at least they try.)

All Google Checkout told me is that I paid $3.99 for "Standard" delivery. In fact, I'll be curious to see whether the time it takes CD Universe to receive and process my order from Google Checkout delays my order's arrival. That potential complication will be something for us to test the next time we review online shopping sites (our last look at e-commerce services was Grace Aquino's "Deal Finders").

My first impression of Google Checkout: I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful online relationship.

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