Google is launching a deal search service known as Google Shihui (shihui means “timely benefit”). Shihui will allow users to search through information aggregated from China’s deal sites.
There are plenty of deal sites to choose from, too. The group-buying market has exploded recently for China, and there are now approximately 4,000 such services in the country.
One particular detail may be an extra bonus for Google: Groupon isn’t one of them. While Google suffers in the face of Groupon in the U.S., Groupon hasn’t been able to get a foothold in China – despite efforts to do so that began earlier this year. As Google tries to break into the daily deal industry, gaining early-stage brand recognition in China could be a powerful asset.
Google spokesman Robin Moroney clarified to IT World, though, that “Shihui is in the early stages of development and we'll be working with our partners to see what features drive the best traffic to their sites and also what features guide users to the offers that are most valuable to them.” The project is still officially declared as a beta offering, and was made available through the Google.cn site on September 13.
Just a few days ago we reported that Google had renewed its Chinese licensing, and I speculated that this could signify the return of Google to China. It seems that my guess wasn’t far off – but I did miss the mark somewhat.
Google's return to Mainland China as a standard search engine isn't imminent. The dedication to a specific ethical code that refuses the censorship of the Chinese government makes full web searching impossible.
Google Shihui could benefit the company in China. It’s unlikely that the Chinese government will pay attention to a deal-finding service, and even if they did, the likelihood of any given set of results requiring censorship would be much lower than with web searches.
Mark Natkin of Beijing’s Marbridge Consulting commented on Google’s move, saying that Google “is still very interested in growing its business in the China market,” and that the deals sector may be a good opportunity to do so because “it's a fairly safe neutral area of business.”