April 22, 2011, 3:16 PM

A mobile tech vendor uses Google to boost m-commerce site functionality

The addition enables GNC to offer enhanced site search and promotions.

Lead Photo

Google Commerce Search enables GNC to include type-ahead site search on its m-commerce site and manipulate where special promotions are placed.

In launching a mobile commerce site, General Nutrition Centers Inc., aka GNC, wanted to stand out from the crowd, by offering features and functions other retailers weren’t. Its m-commerce technology provider, Branding Brand, had an idea: What if it integrated Google Inc.’s Google Commerce Search service, which offers some unique functionality, with its own mobile commerce platform? The vendor did, and GNC got what it asked for.

Google Commerce Search has greatly enhanced the site search experience and promotional capabilities on GNC’s m-commerce site. This is important because site search is a key component of m-commerce, as mobile shoppers typically are hunting for a specific product and want to get in and out fast.

“Many mobile shoppers are spear-fishers—they go to the site, get something done and go,” says Christopher Mason, managing director at Branding Brand.

The new mobile site search through Google Commerce Search offers type-ahead. This is a helpful tool in e-commerce, but even more so in m-commerce where typing is not as easy. For instance, typing in “whe” on GNC’s mobile site displays a drop-down menu below the site search box that shows a variety of choices, including whey protein, whey isolate, wheybolic extreme 60 and whey protein vanilla. A shopper can just touch one of those entries and the site automatically conducts the search, saving the shopper several keystrokes.

Integrating Google Commerce Search also enables GNC to place promotions specific to its mobile site anywhere on the site, including with site search results or on top of product category pages. Rather than having to ask Branding Brand to place promotions, GNC e-commerce staff members can do it themselves through the Google Commerce Search dashboard. A dashboard is an interface with a system designed to make it easier to see results and make changes.

Additionally, the integration will soon enable GNC to hop on board the latest phenomenon in mobile commerce, which can be summed up in one word: local. Google Commerce Search enables results to feature local availability. It uses the local inventory data feed a retailer sends to Google Product Search for web search results. Google Commerce Search will take that same feed and reproduce local availability in the mobile setting. That way a shopper looking for a particular nutritional supplement can see if it’s available at the GNC store around the corner.

Combined with GNC’s mobile GPS-powered store locator, this will help customers who shop multiple channels, Mason says. “For the customer this is huge, a really cool way to get what you want faster,” he says. “Most of the time you are on the go and want to get things done fast. Local tools and information are really taking off.”

Branding Brand launched the GNC mobile site last month. It is now rolling Google Commerce Search out to other clients. It would not reveal exact costs, but says Google Commerce Search integration starts at $25,000 and a Branding Brand site starts at $65,000. The vendor says it took its technical staff a few months to understand and use the application program interfaces, or APIs, that Google provides developers so they can plug into Google data; but once it learned how to utilize and integrate the APIs, the rest of the project was relatively simple.

“Google Commerce Search offers relatively new features, and they had just put out at the end of 2010 their APIs to develop this kind of functionality,” Mason explains. “We saw the APIs, read up on them, understood the documentation well, and thought we could be using this as a way to really empower our customers. And more so, we saw where this was going. We knew local was becoming a big part of the picture. So we want to be able to provide this functionality to our clients first.”

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