written by
Bret Carmichael

Google AMP for email is a strike at Amazon

Innovation 7 min read
The Google logo spelled out with M&Ms

Amazon owns 6% of all retail. That figure seems small, but it's enormous when you consider the multitude of online and brick and mortar retailers that exist. Merchants need to sell on Amazon if they intend to reach customers. When doing so, they give Amazon ownership of the customer relationship. Merchants compete in an environment where their shelf space is undifferentiated from their competitors, including that of low cost off-brands. This is great for consumers, because it drives down prices, but it's economically difficult for merchants. AMP for email will offer merchants some relief by enabling new opportunities to: create buying intent among consumers, make it easier for them to pay, and put them back in control of the customer relationship.

What is Google AMP for email?

On March 26, 2019, Google's Gmail product team published a blog article, "Take action and stay up-to-date with dynamic email in Gmail." In the post, they detailed how, through Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), they're able to bring interactive features to email.

The current state of email

Email is old. While an email may look like a functioning webpage, it's only HTML and CSS. Conventional email can display information, link to external sites, and depending on client support, play video. It lacks the features of modern web and application experiences. For example, there's no way to authenticate users with a website from within a conventional email.

Google AMP for email makes email dynamic

Google AMP for email promises to make email interactive. If successful, it will materially change how people use email and bring experiences more in line with those had on the web.

Starting today, we’re making emails more useful and interactive in Gmail. Your emails can stay up to date so you’re always seeing the freshest information, like the latest comment threads and recommended jobs. With dynamic email, you can easily take action directly from within the message itself, like RSVP to an event, fill out a questionnaire, browse a catalog or respond to a comment. - Aakash Sahney, Product Manager, Gmail

Because conventional email lacks application-like experiences, it forces the user to leave their email client to perform any action. This always requires two things: waiting for another app to open and waiting for the relevant page to load. It can also require login and additional search. AMP for email eliminates much of this friction, keeping users in their email app. Elimination of wait time and context switching matters.

Example AMP for email use case

You receive an email from a merchant. The email includes recommendations tailored to your specific preferences. You can browse the recommendations, because the email is interactive and you're authenticated with the sender. This is demonstrated in Pinterest's example, where browsing pins is analogous to browsing products.

Pinterest using Google AMP for email

Next, you buy a product from the merchant. You receive a confirmation that does more than just show that you've completed a purchase. It starts updating you about its status. You can refer back to the email for new information. You don't need to visit the merchant site. Ecwid's example shows this in-flight, and its utility is hard to ignore. Merchants know you want to see the status of your order. Until now, you needed to seek out your order status. Alternatively, the merchant would need to email you with every change, introducing a different problem: annoyance. The ideal scenario is; you see your current order status whenever you want to see it.

A strike at Amazon

When you start to think of email as a tool for interacting with curated and updatable content, email has more gravity to keep users in their email client. It starts looking and behaving like the Amazon app or its website.

To be clear, AMP for email will not disrupt Amazon. Amazon will continue to be the destination where a lot of retail happens. AMP for email's benefits are not unique to specific merchants. Amazon has equal access to them. However, therein is the challenge to Amazon.

Amazon's retail dominance is due to its role as a retail aggregator. All merchants have access to customer inboxes though. AMP for email moves the acts of browsing and buying products to a position earlier in the value chain. The move from a single (Amazon) customer relationship to many relationships (multiple individual merchants) creates a disaggregating effect. Amazon can't simply close the gap by sending more email. There is vastly more competition for Amazon in customer inboxes than there is on Amazon.com, and customers will be able to shop the competition from their inboxes.

AMP for email provides familiar brands with an opportunity to recapture relationships and redifferentiate from competitors.

To be sure, AMP for email will deliver the greatest benefit to merchants with existing brand reputation. It will be of much lesser benefit to low cost off-brand merchants which customers don't recognize or allow in their inboxes. Such merchants often come and go from Amazon and serve customers who shop only on price. They benefit more from Amazon's brand reputation than their own, "I bought it on Amazon."

Risks to Google AMP for email

Google AMP for web

Google AMP for web has been in use since 2016. It delivers webpages which prioritize speed over cosmetics -- built for mobile -- where users are frequently constrained by poor signal strength or slow download speeds. It's popularly used by publishers to share content on the web. A given article has a direct URL at a publisher's website. A second Google hosted AMP URL exists simultaneously. Google prioritizes AMP URLs above others in their mobile search results, where the majority of browsing occurs.

iPhone X displaying prioritized Google AMP search results
Google AMP links prioritized in search results

A bad reputation

Google AMP for web gained a bad reputation. It prioritized AMP results in search, which meant publishers were pressured to use it; to appear high in search results. However, using AMP meant a publisher's article would navigate users to the Google hosted version of the article, not the publisher's site. Google then inserted a navigation toolbar at the top of the AMP article. Swiping left or right would browse articles from multiple publishers, instead of just articles written by the original article's publisher. Sharing the article would share Google AMP URL. This commoditized publishers and created some distrust.

Daring Fireball's John Gruber explained it this way:

Why would I want to cede control over my pages to Google? AMP pages do load fast, but if publishers want their web pages to load fast, they can just engineer them to load fast. Best answers I got were that it wasn’t really strategic — publishers are going with AMP just because their SEO people are telling them to, because Google features AMP pages in search results. I suppose that is a strategy, but ceding control over your content to Google isn’t a good one in the long term. - John Gruber

Consolidation of power

Google is the world's largest search engine, with almost 80% of search worldwide. Google Chrome is the most popular web browser at ~65%, and Gmail boasts over 1 billion users. As one of the world's largest content aggregators, Google's power to shape web standards will likely give pause to content creators.

As is true of AMP for web, Google owns and is the standards body for AMP for email. As email providers and clients consider support, they need to consider the power they'll be giving Google. Yahoo, Microsoft Outlook, and Mail.ru have already voiced their support of AMP. However, Apple, who owns 50% of the mobile phone market in the United States has not.

What's next?

It seems reasonable to expect that Google's AMP for email will make inroads. Merchants can deploy AMP and conventional email concurrently, with fallback to conventional email. Even with Google's platform power, providers like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Apple (if they support it) maintain some control. They can withdraw their support of AMP for email if it heads in a direction that gives Google a differentiating advantage.

google amazon