Google Inc. yesterday unveiled an enhanced version of its Product Search feature aimed at bridging consumers' online and offline shopping experiences. Consumers can find the Product Search service, which is a comparison shopping engine, when they click on Google.com's Shopping link.
Google says it’s addressing the growing role of the web as the first stop of a shopping trip. Even though 93% of retail purchases take place in bricks-and-mortar stores, more than 46% of those in-store transactions are influenced by online research, wrote Sameer Samat, Google director of product management, in a blog post.
“The line between online and offline shopping is starting to blur,” he wrote. “Not to mention that shoppers can access the web from anywhere at any time—including from their mobile phones when browsing the aisles of a local store,” he wrote.
Google worked with more than 70 retail brands, including Best Buy, OfficeMax and Borders, to add local product availability to search results. The consumer can see online stores that have the item and nearby stores that have the item in stock. Consumers can also click an “In Stock Nearby” button to limit the search to only retailers that have the item in stock.
To add the In Stock Nearby function, Google worked with e-retail software vendors JDA Software Group, Epicor Software Corp. and Oracle Corp. to develop tools geared for larger retailers. Google says tools that will allow smaller bricks-and-mortar retailers to participate are under development and will be released soon.
The changes promise to be a boon for consumers, says Tim Kilroy, vice president of natural search at PM digital, a provider of search engine marketing services.“This really is what search engines ought to be doing,” he says. “The search engine is determining some sort of intent and giving the consumer a contextual result.”
For multichannel retailers with well-optimized Google feeds the offering could boost traffic, he says. “If a consumer wants blue fuzzy slippers she can go out and get them,” he says.
But for price-sensitive consumers, the offering probably won’t make much of a difference, he says. As a result, many online-only retailers whose businesses are predicated on a brand or price advantage, won’t feel a difference.
Google also announced plans to roll out two new shopping features called "Popular Products" and "Aisles" to help consumers search and discover new products. When a consumer searches for a product, such as a camera lens, the feature will display lenses that other people are viewing online.
The Aisles tool allows consumers to browse products by organizing results into subcategories that other consumers have previously used. For instance, if a consumer is looking for a new TV, he can choose between display types like LCD and plasma, or if he is interested in camera lenses he can shop by the aperture of the lens.