March 31, 2011, 2:53 PM

Google updates its site search tool for e-retailers

Commerce Search 3.0 features enhanced local inventory and product search capabilities.

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Google Inc. this week updated its site search tool, giving retailers the ability to show consumers local product inventories and  more flexibility in setting online promotions. With the launch of Google Commerce Search 3.0, the search engine also says it will test a product recommendation feature that retailers can install on their e-commerce sites.

This release builds on the last update to Commerce Search, released in June, and includes a tool similar to Google’s Instant Search. Google introduced that feature to its search in September, enabling consumers to see search results on the page as they type search queries. The Commerce Search update enables shoppers using a retailer’s site search feature to see more product information with every keystroke. For instance, a consumer searching the e-commerce site BabyAge.com for baby strollers would see, by the time she typed “stro,” not only suggested keywords but a long list of specific strollers and car seats, complete with product names, images and prices. Clicking on those suggestions takes the shopper to a product page.

“The new aspects of ‘Search As You Type’ are the dynamically updated product images, prices and links to product pages,” says Todd Herrold, senior director of product strategy for Kenshoo Local, a digital marketing software company.

The updated Commerce Search also gives merchants a more efficient way to promote products, Google says. “Enhanced merchandising tools allow retailers  to create product promotions that display in banners alongside related search queries, and to easily set query-based landing pages—for example, when visitors types ‘shoes,’ they’re directed to a ‘shoe’ page,” writes Tianyu Wen, software engineer for Google Commerce Search, in a blog post.

Additionally, results for specific products on a retailer’s e-commerce site can show shoppers which retailer stores have those products in stock. “This helps to drive offline sales, which is becoming an increasingly critical area of focus for digital marketers and merchandisers,” Herrold says.

Google gave no details about the scope or schedule of its product recommendations test via Commerce Search.

With the release of Google Commerce Search 3.0, the search engine also announced that three new retailers have implemented the service: General Nutrition Center Inc., No. 237 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, which implemented the tool on its mobile web site; Forever21, No. 430; and L’Occitane, which sells cosmetics. “We’re very excited about the possibility of the new local inventory feature, which can help us connect our customers with their favorite products in one of our 170 U.S. boutiques,” says Christine Burke, L’Occitane’s vice president of international e-commerce.

Unclear, though, is how many retailers already use Google Commerce Search, and whether the updates will persuade more to adapt the technology, search marketing experts say. While the update represents a significant move forward for the site search tool, Google Commerce Search still suffers from a lack of awareness among retailers, says Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, a firm that helps retailers sell through online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay as well as comparison shopping sites. 

The tool also faces challenges because retailers worry that by using it, they will share too much data with Google, which, the concern goes, could result in Google’s advertising side pressuring retailers to increase their spending, Wingo and others say. Additionally, the tool’s price remains too high for many retailers, with the cost starting at $25,000 annually.

Another challenge Google faces in selling Commerce Search is integration with a retailer’s e-commerce platform, says Michael Turcsanyi, president of OrderDynamics Corp., an e-commerce services provider. “They need to really simplify the integration,” he says. A relatively simple merchant integration, one that involves relatively little work with product inventory, can take a few weeks, with more complex integrations taking significantly longer, he says.

Sreeram Ramachandran, senior software engineer at Google, will speak at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition 2011 in a session entitled “Do your web pages need a new fitness regimen?

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