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Google is taking on Amazon with 'Google Express'—is it worth shopping there?

Does Google's shopping hub truly make it easier to buy products online?

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Wish there was a place to shop where you could compare prices from multiple retailers at once and get the best deal on your favorite products, while also getting everything you need shipped quickly and efficiently right to your door?

Say hello to Google Express, the online shopping service that's designed to give you that experience. While it’s been around for years, this constantly evolving platform is part of Google’s attempt to unseat Amazon’s hegemony in the online shopping world. The service aims to make buying products online more convenient and accessible. But chances are, you’ve never even heard of it before. And honestly, there’s a reason for that.

Thanks to high free-shipping thresholds and a convoluted delivery model system, Google Express can pose challenges to certain shoppers. Although Google Express works with an assortment of national retailers, those big-name stores might not be available in your area, which means a potentially smaller selection of store to shop from—and extended delivery times.

Still, shopping with Google Express can offer unique benefits, since some products might be cheaper if you buy through this platform instead of going directly to the source. Curious to learn more about Google Express and what this service has to offer? Here’s everything you need to know about Google Express, plus all the ways it can help you get everything on your shopping list quickly, so you have more time to spend doing stuff that really matters.

What is Google Express?

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Google Express makes it easy to shop via product, price, store, or category.

Founded in 2013, Google Express is an online marketplace where shoppers can browse and purchase items from hundreds of popular retailers, like Target, Costco, and many more.

Think of it like a digital mall: You park your browser on one website and shop at multiple stores all at once. You can buy new sheets from Target, a Nutribullet from Bed Bath & Beyond, and a charger from Best Buy. And because Google Express acts as a big shopping hub of sorts, you can do it all in one transaction.

Those items don’t ship directly from Google, but instead through each retailer. Based on your recent Google searches, Google Express also makes recommendations for products you might like.

Signing up for Google Express is pretty simple, since you can do it in seconds using any Gmail account. From there, you can access the website to buy things directly with your debit, credit, or Google Pay account. You can also shop using the Google Express app on your phone or by voice with Google Assistant on a Google Home device.

While you can buy all kinds of things through the service, one interesting thing to keep in mind that Google Express doesn’t offer grocery delivery anymore. It might seem surprising since Amazon—its biggest competitor—does, but Google Express eliminated its grocery delivery service in 2016 to focus on expanding into new markets.

How do you shop Google Express?

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Here are some of the retailers that you can shop through Google Express. Remember, these also vary based on where you live.

Shopping and searching for products on Google Express is fairly intuitive. When you visit the site or use the app, there’s a search bar at the top that you can use to pinpoint particular products. On the site’s main landing page, you can also filter results to shop by store, category, and price. If you’re shopping by category or item, you'll see results from multiple stores.

You can also see current sales—segmented by store—and compare prices of the same item offered by different retailers. This is arguably one of the biggest benefits to shopping on Google Express. It can help cut down on your research time—plus, you can create a shopping list, which you can add to and share with others.

One of the other big things that sets Google Express apart from other delivery services is its lineup of national retailers. Unlike with Amazon or other companies, you’re not just locked into shopping at one place. Google Express sometimes even offers these products at a lower rate due to special sales promotions, which means you could save more than if you went directly to the source.

While retailers vary based on where you live, some of the biggest brands available through Google Express include Target, Costco, Best Buy, Petsmart, Sephora, Bed Bath & Beyond, buybuy Baby, and more.

And with Target in particular, you can get a bunch of interesting perks. If you have a Target REDcard, you'll have access to exclusive discounts. And if you sync up your Target.com account with Google, you can even get personalized shopping recommendations, which is great for folks who frequent the store (i.e. everyone).

If you don’t like something you purchase through Google Express, you can also return it. While sometimes this varies by store, the Google Express return policy is 30 days for a full refund, so long as the products are in good or as-delivered condition.

Does Google Express offer free shipping?

Getting stuff delivered quickly and cheaply is a big part of the appeal of online shopping. Google Express offers the kind of flexible shipping that’s perfect for those with busy, active lifestyles, but it’s not without its challenges.

First off, the service doesn’t include all of the U.S.—Alaska and Hawaii are excluded completely and there’s no international shipping at this time. In larger metro areas, shoppers may be able to place orders for same-day or next-day delivery. However, in more suburban or rural places, delivery can take anywhere from one business day up to one week.

Another challenge is the fact that Google doesn’t actually store or ship products directly at all. When you’re shopping on Amazon, most products are stocked and shipped from one of their warehouses nationwide. But with Google, retailers are tasked with managing much of the shipping and delivery process, and that’s where things get a little wonky, leading to delays in delivery.

Delivery services like this (PostMates, Amazon Prime Now, etc.) can get really expensive, but one of the good things about using Google Express is that you don’t need a paid membership to use it. You can get free delivery on every purchase so long as you meet the minimum order threshold for each retailer.

Those in-store minimums are a big thing to keep in mind. While you can shop at different stores all at the same time using Google Express, you still have to meet the free shipping minimums set by each store.

For example, that means if you want to buy almonds at Costco, a set of towels at Target, and dog food at Petsmart, you’d still have to spend at least $25-$35 per store (based on that store's minimum) to qualify for "free shipping." It could be a major hassle for some, and is definitely one of the bigger drawbacks to using Google Express for shopping, even though you only have to go through a single checkout process.

Google Express: Is it worth it?

While Google Express has evolved a lot over the last six years, ultimately it’s still a flawed service that poses certain challenges.

Unlike Amazon, Google Express doesn’t gather and ship products from a centralized location, which makes it feel less streamlined than the competition. Because Google largely relies on retailers to pull products and coordinate, the delivery process may be delayed beyond what you’d ordinarily expect, epsecially if you're used to Prime two-day shipping. If you live outside of a city, deliveries may take even longer, which could defeat the purpose of using it at all.

In many ways, Google Express is just a middleman service, which begs the question: why not just go directly to the source? But since Google Express offers discounts above and beyond what retailers offer direct, it can be worthwhile for some bargain hunters.

If you already use Google products, Google Express is a more natural fit, especially since Google Pay is an accepted way to make purchases. As an added benefit, you can use the service without a costly membership (unless you're shopping Costco's selection, which does require a Costco membership), which is definitely a bonus for budget-conscious shoppers.

If you want to explore Google Express for yourself, now might be a good time. From now until April 28, you can also get 20% off your first order on Google Express using the code "APRSAVE19," for up to $20 in savings.

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Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.