June 10, 2010, 1:37 PM

Google bets on mobile

Search engine exec urges online retailers to innovate with product data.

Thad Rueter

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

Google's new e-commerce chief, Stephanie Tilenius, outlines the search giant's strategy at IRCE 2010.

With Google Inc. betting that consumers want to access the web more often through mobile devices than through other computers, retailers should make sure consumers can easily receive inventory, product reviews, location and other information through their handheld phones, Stephanie Tilenius, the search engine giant's new vice president of e-commerce, told attendees today at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition.

Tilenius said that e-commerce, besides becoming more tied to web-enabled mobile devices, also is becoming more dependent on social media and personalized and localized searches that, for instance, include Twitter results about products or offer maps of retail locations. The vast majority of consumers—at least eight in 10, she said—conduct online research before making a purchase, making it vital for retailers to offer as much up-to-date information as possible to web shoppers.

"We want to encourage you to create a seamless shopping experience, offline and online," she said, adding that such an effort could include offering an online ad that encourages an in-store purchase.

Tilenius, a nine-year veteran of eBay Inc., joined Google in February. Tilenius had experience with online payments through its PayPal unit, but she would not address during her speech what plans the search engine has for its Google Checkout online payment processing unit. "We have a lot of work of us ahead to figure out the future of Checkout," she said, responding to a question from the audience about whether Google remains committed to the processing service.

She also said Google has no immediate plans to go further into online retailing. Google earlier this year sold through a dedicated web site its Nexus One mobile phone, which runs on the Google-backed Android operating system. Google stopped web sales of the phones by late May, with Tilenius and other Google executives saying that customers preferred the hands-on experience of buying mobile phones inside stores.

Consumers continue to buy about 100,000 Nexus One phones each day, she said, adding that the sales figures point to the exploding popularity of smart phones, a trend that online retailers cannot ignore. In fact, she said, the average user of an Android phone searches the web 30 times more than consumers with other phones. "We are betting on mobile," she said. "We believe the mobile web will be bigger than the PC web."

Google is backing up that bet by introducing and testing services designed to make shopping from mobile phones easier for consumers. As an example, Tilenius highlighted Google Goggles. The service, in beta, enables consumers to take photos of barcodes or products and then run a search to determine where to buy those products. So far, the service works better with what Tilenius called hard goods such as DVDs, with improvement needed in soft goods such as shoes.

She also told retailers that consumers are eager to have more say in the development of products and services. She used as an example online fashion community Polyvore Inc., which earlier this year hired former Google executive Sukhinder Singh Cassidy as its CEO. The company enables consumers to mix and match fashion images from online retailers and to publish those images or share collages on such social media sites as Facebook and Twitter.

"This notion of empowering users to drive commerce is another big trend we are seeing on the web," Tilenius said.

Even as Tilenius outlined the Google view of how e-commerce will evolve over the next few months and years, attendees had more immediate and ordinary concerns about the search engine's relationship with online retailers.

Tilenius assured one attendee that Google could integrate into search results product review data from different platforms, not just Bazaarvoice, a consumer reviews vendor that announced a partnership with Google this spring.

Minutes after that, another attendee drew applause and a few cheers when she asked Tilenius whether Google plans to make its customer service department "more approachable" for online retailers. Tilenius offered a defense and a nugget of encouragement for retailers.

"We have increased our account coverage quite a bit," she said, "but I will push for that."

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