Google acquired a UK company called Rangespan that brings suppliers and retailers together and could help it provide more accurate product data in Google Shopping. Industry observers pondered whether the acquisition was a move closer to Google launching a marketplace of its own to compete with Amazon and eBay.
Founded in 2011, Rangespan offered retailers intelligent product-sourcing – a sort of “drop-shipping on steroids” solution – offering them a wider breadth of inventory than they could on their own with relatively little risk since they didn’t handle the inventory.
In describing itself, Rangespan said it existed in order to get the right products from the right suppliers to the right retailers. Just as retailers provide Google with a product feed of products they offer for sale to consumers, suppliers provide Rangespan with a product feed of products they offer for sale to retailers. Rangespan then tracks and ranks those products with a RangeRank popularity score so retailers using its supplier integration platform can determine what products are likely to sell best.
Working with Argos, Tesco, ASDA, eBuyer, Maplin, Staples and about 200 other retailers and suppliers in the UK, Rangespan said suppliers benefited from new sales channels, while retailers were able to analytically select from a huge range of products and launch them easily, “thereby providing their customers with the products they want.”
Google already has a history of offering retailers and online merchants a wide range of ecommerce solutions, though not all have met with success. For example, it launched a hosted site-search solution for large enterprise merchants in 2009 that it discontinued in 2013.
Google doesn’t actually own or sell the products it presents to shoppers in Google Shopping, so product data comes primarily from retailers through product feeds. Merchants can be notoriously inaccurate in providing data about their products, as any seller who lists regularly on Amazon or other marketplacesquickly discovers.
Accessing accurate supplier data in a consistent format could help Google provide a better shopping experience. Even prior to the Rangespan acquisition, Google was working on catalog accuracy, entering into an agreement with Edgenet in 2011 that allowed Google to fill in the gaps with accurate product data from manufacturers and suppliers.
James Scott, Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Brightpearl, has worked in ecommerce since 2005, most of those years based in the UK. Scott said buying Rangespan was a smart move by Google and could be another datapoint to suggest a Google Marketplace is in the making. “We believe that a Google Marketplace could provide another broad channel, in addition to eBay and Amazon, for retailers to reach new customers.” Brightpearl works with multi-channel merchants and its cloud-based solution is integrated with Amazon, eBay, Magento, Bigcommerce, Shopify and other ecommerce platforms.
“The Rangespan team has years of experience grappling with the challenges of building an Amazon-like catalog of products and product data,” Scott said. “This is something Amazon does extremely well and eBay has been working hard on for a number of years to catch up with Amazon.”
“The Rangespan team has worked together for many years, they are super smart and appear to have put a pretty big focus on data quality, volume forecasting, predictive sales and selling algorithms based on competitive business intelligence and pricing data – all of which would help retailers with merchandizing the right products to the right consumers, using the right channels,” Scott said.
Rangespan itself may have provided a clue as to what attracted Google to it, assuming Google is looking to compete with Amazon. On a company blog post, Rangespan Category Director Neil Campbell had explained that wide selection was the key to Amazon’s profitability, provided by its marketplace sellers or from thousands of suppliers.
“To enable this selection, you need to find ways to work with thousands of suppliers (be they direct suppliers or marketplace merchants / resellers) in a scalable way, launching huge ranges, and letting customers via their searches and purchases tell you what they’re looking for. This is exactly what Rangespan helps the UK’s major retailers do,” Campbell wrote.
Wes Shepherd, founder and CEO of ChannelIQ, said he believed the reason for the acquisition was a mix of talent acquisition and a bid for increased relevancy to retailers and more so, manufacturers. ChannelIQ helps companies protect their brands and pricing across channels. “In the past, Google really didn’t understand ecommerce, product data and retail in general,” and he said Rangespan’s talent includes that along with big data expertise.
It’s true that much is made of the talent that goes along with acquisitions in the technology field (“acquihire” is a common term used when a small startup is acquired by a large entity, for example).
In this case, Google gains the expertise of four former Amazon executives. Rangespan cofounder Matt Henderson had previously worked at Amazon for 7 years where he led the third-party marketplace business and WebStore in the UK. Its other cofounder, Ryan Regan, worked for Amazon UK for 8 years where his roles included Managing Director, Finance Director and Director of Consumer Electronics. Rangespan Category Director Neil Campbell had worked at Amazon.com for 4 years, most recently as the Senior Category Leader for the Camera, Phones & GPS categories for the UK business. And Rangespan Analytics Manager Gang Luo worked as a product manager for Amazon UK.
Rangespan also has data scientists with impressive resumes, including Jurgen Van Gael, formerly part of the Bing Personalization team who helped develop Bing’s recommendation engines.
Rangespan had charged retailers a transaction fee from between 7.5% (with a minimum monthly fee of 100 pounds) to 2.5% (with a minimum monthly fee of 3,000 pounds) as well as operational fees. It provided enterprise retailers with lower transaction fees and a minimum monthly fee of 10,000 pounds.
An announcement on the Rangespan website explains that the company will be winding down its services as a result of the acquisition. “We’ve already begun working individually with each of our retailers and suppliers on this process.”
A Google core competency is working with structured data, and that’s been the case with its ecommerce initiatives.
As Edgenet told its customers in 2012, “better, highly structured data results in a bigger bottom line.”
Update 5/5/14: The original article identified James Scott as Senior Vice President of Product at Brightpearl; he is Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Brightpearl.