August 23, 2010, 4:25 PM

Google buys a visual shopping firm

The search engine giant acquires Like.com.

Lead Photo

Google Inc. has bought comparison shopping site Like.com, says Munjal Shah, Like.com’s CEO and founder. Terms were not disclosed.

Like.com offers comparison shopping services based on visual search. Its photo-recognition technology creates what the company calls visual signatures that can enable consumers to search by product images.

For instance, a consumer searching for black shoes can search for the products at Like.com and then hit the “visual search” button beneath an item to call up other products that match based on color, shape and pattern.  The visual search technology has its origins in Riya, a company Shah led prior to Like.com. Google was in talks in 2005 to buy Riya before walking away from the deal. Like.com launched in 2006 and had raised more than $47 million in funding. 

“We see joining Google as a way to supersize our vision and supercharge our passion. This is something we are truly excited about,” Shah says.

Google says that Like.com employees will work closely with Google’s commerce team. “While Like.com will operate its web sites separately in the near term, we’re excited about the technology they’ve built and the domain expertise they’ll bring to Google,” a Google spokesman says.

Google did not disclose specifics on how it will use Like.com’s visual search, but industry watchers think Google can benefit in a number of ways. “Broadly it gives Google a valuable shopping Lego block that it could plug into many different areas that they operate in,” says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisors Corp., an e-commerce services firm.

Wingo says Google’s Product Search could benefit from Like.com’s technology and expertise in the apparel space, which would bring Google more in line with recent efforts by Amazon and eBay to build up that retail category. “This would give Google a much larger platform than it has today,” says Wingo. “This tells me that Google is investing in e-commerce again. It’s an area they’ve been ignoring for a long time because they’ve had so much going on.” 

Google this year made a big move in e-commerce when it hired Stephanie Tilenius as vice president of e-commerce, a new post. She had worked at eBay as head of global product and North America and also as head of PayPal, eBay’s online payment service.  

Earlier this year Google sold through a dedicated web site its Nexus One mobile phone. In May, however, Google stopped web sales of the phone, with Google executives saying that customers preferred the hands-on experience of buying mobile phones inside stores.

The Like.com purchase continues Google’s acquisition spree. It acquired Slide, a social media application developer, and Jambool, a virtual currency creator and processor, earlier this month. Google also has struck recent deals to provide consumers access to more product ratings and reviews via online search results.

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