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Google Commerce Search 3.0 Brings Big Brains to Smaller Shops

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Google announced Commerce Search 3.0 yesterday. In essence, this is a massive update to their search solution for e-commerce sites. The key features of this update are:

Instant Search: Every keypress starts streaming product results and search suggestions directly within the search bar.

Realtime Inventory Search: Users can see if an item is in stock in a nearby store. Again, streamed directly within the search toolbar results.

On-site Complimentary Product Promotions: Merchandisers can create banner ads for product offers related to the search query, which when clicked, land on a query-based landing page - essentially a search results page.

User Engagement Based Product Recommendations: Essentially a Google Labs experiment for a "users who viewed/bought this product also viewed/bought" type web app as is commonly found on many high end e-commerce sites.

The Good
The great thing about Google Commerce Search 3.0 is that it enables small companies and niche retailers to enjoy high-end e-commerce features as can be found on hugely successful online shopping companies such as Amazon and Zappos - without having to make the same kind of investment in a development team. The annual license cost for Google Commerce Search is just $25,000 - equivalent to an entry level salary of a new employee.

The HealthWarehouse case study details how the installation of Google Commerce Search took only three weeks and that a "machine learning" aspect of the service was able to recognize synonyms more quickly than they could be manually added. Put simply, every search improves the accuracy of the engine.

The BabyAge case study details how they were able to implement the service in just six days as they already had a feed created for Google Product Search.

The entire engine is hosted "in the cloud" which should significantly reduce maintenance costs. All the case studies listed above and also the Woodcraft Supply case study focussed heavily on the operational savings made form using a cloud based solution.

But besides the operational improvements, the functionality improvements really show the benefits of having Google's development expertise, as the features are particularly up to date with current online shopping trends.

Yes, social shopping is on the rise and most of us will be familiar with Amazon's recommendation engine, but a few of the trends identified in last years thanksgiving season (the one that saw record sales) were have been capitalized upon in this latest update:

  • A) Display ads and paid search ads combined tended to increase conversion and brand recognition - which is now something even small retailers and merchandizers can make use of with the built in complimentary product promotion feature.

  • B) Real-time stock checking was launched by Google last year alongside award winning startups like Goodzer. Not only is real-time stock checking a way to drive footfall traffic to physical locations but also a nifty way for offline retailers to compete on price with each other and also larger online retailers. However, the real secret sauce is the future of real-time inventory checking, which Goodzer are banking on being in the augmented reality and mobile comparison shopping space. Users will snap a photo of a product they like and compare prices with shops nearby and online, whilst in the store. With Google making huge leaps and bounds in the augmented reality area with Google Goggles, it's not far-fetched to think that the risk of relying on Google Commerce Search 3.0 now, could pay-off in the imminent m-commerce (shopping via mobile or smartphome) future many retailers have yet to face.

The Bad
It's really only a little gripe but - whilst the "all the action is happening in the search box" approach seems to be fashionable right now, is visually appealing and provides a strong amount of 'scent' or 'signal' to the user - I found the interface to be more awkward to use than I expected it to be.

It wasn't enough to truly deter me, because the toolbar type search box clearly showed that the retailer stocked the similar products and did also help me to discover a range of products simply by guessing names, I found it awkward that search suggestions appeared and could be scrolled through using the keyboard but to actually select stuff I then had to switch to the mouse. As I said, it's a minor gripe and probably something easily fixed but it did cause a moment of confusion with the ever shifting results.

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The Results
All the results listed below are detailed in the case studies linked to above, but here are some interesting data points on how user behavior changed with the overall 'instant' approach of Google Commerce Search 3.0:

  • BabyAge said "Shoppers spent 21% less time searching, yet there were 58% more product searches."

  • HealthWarehouse said search volumes doubled and conversions increased by 19%.

  • Woodcraft Supply increased online conversions by 27.7% and increased search revenues 34%.



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