Google is offering an additional $200 million in advertising grants for nonprofit organizations and releasing a slew of product updates as its gears up for a reopening of economies hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The internet giant said Wednesday that it will expand its annual ad grants commitment to $1 billion to support nonprofits fighting things like Covid-19 and racial injustice in their outreach efforts. The firm typically provides $800 million in ad grants for nonprofits every year.
It's also adding new features to its platforms, such as a tool that lets users search and book local services on Google through its Local Services Ads offering. The feature is currently only available in the U.S. and Canada, but Google plans on expanding it internationally.
The move is part of a series of announcements Google is making in place of its Google Marketing Live conference, which has been made impossible due to Covid-19. The firm will organize subsequent announcements and roundtables for marketers in the coming weeks.
"It's especially important now because of Covid-19 that we're in this intense listening mode where we're trying to get feedback from the market," Jerry Dischler, vice president of ads at Google, told CNBC in an interview. "We're trying to launch products as quickly as possible to address market needs."
The $200 million donation from Google follows a $800 million package it announced back in March to ease the financial pressures facing small and medium-sized firms, governments and health workers.
Dischler said the company held a "series of war rooms" in response to the pandemic to figure out how different advertisers were being impacted as well as the response from consumers.
One of the big sectors affected, he said, was the travel industry, so Google introduced a new "pay per stay" pricing model where it wouldn't charge travel firms for ads if a customer canceled their booking.
Google has faced calls from some travel firms to help with the challenges of coronavirus, which has shut down economies and dried up revenues. Several travel start-ups in Germany for instance had urged the tech giant to pause ad payments for companies receiving taxpayer-funded assistance.
Google says the expansion of its new ad pricing model for hotel groups should ease the burden these groups face. And now that countries are gradually lifting their restrictions, Google is hoping to capitalize on that reopening with new ad products focused on accelerating an economic recovery.
A key part of Google's new updates centers on e-commerce. The company plans to include information on how much stock advertisers have and whether they provide the option of curbside pickup on its Shopping tab. It also wants to make it free for small businesses using its Smart campaign ads to promote their locations on Google Maps through to the end of September.
Google is also expanding its Smart campaigns — which are aimed primarily at its smaller customers — to all of the 150 countries in which it operates.
It mirrors a broader strategy from Google to move deeper into the online retail space. The firm made product listings on its Shopping tab free in April, in a move widely seen as an attempt to reinvigorate its online marketplace and challenge Amazon's dominance. Amazon is expected to increase its share of the U.S. e-commerce market by 1 percentage point to 38% this year, according to figures from market research firm eMarketer.
"E-commerce is increasing in popularity," Dischler said. "It's a huge opportunity for us."
He said the addition of information on availability of certain items was especially crucial during the Covid-19 pandemic, as "inventory is a real struggle and we need to be able to match the products that are available in warehouses with the consumers who want them."
Facebook made a similar attempt to capitalize on the growth in e-commerce during coronavirus lockdowns, launching a new feature called Facebook Shops to make it simpler for companies to list products on Facebook and Instagram.