Google’s Free “Search As You Type” Offering

Google is firing on all cylinders when it comes to offering new or improvised products in the e-commerce space. I had noted a couple of recent products introduced by Google in my earlier posts. None of them are major innovations, but they are bringing Google closer to partnering better with e-commerce merchants. The latest offering from Google literally intrudes into the very website of a retailer.

Google's "search as you type" feature allows an e-commerce merchant's customer to use onsite search and find products to buy on the website. This is not much different from an autofill or autocomplete solution offered literally by any search solution provider in the market like Endeca or Solr. The good thing about Google is that it also allows the display of certain products with images, price and a brief description. As a customer, one may find the products displayed as an opportunity to directly view the product details and purchase them if needed. This makes a lot of sense especially if customers are looking for some specific products they have already researched and are just checking to see if the the retailer is carrying them or not. For the rest of the customers, this is just noise and in fact makes the search drop down big and ugly. Lowes and Hasbro have participated in the pilot program and as usual this comes for FREE from Google.

Conversion rate from onsite search can be as high as 3% or more. In my experience, I've seen that it certainly scores better than search directed from an external search engine either through organic or paid means. Onsite search converts better as we already have the customer shopping the website and all it takes is relevant products to be visible and available for purchase. A great onsite search solution solves that purpose. Google makes life easy for a lot of online retailers who don't have the money to purchase an expensive solution like Endeca or invest resources to use the open source yet complicated search solution Solr. The catch is however that all this magic can only happen if retailers share all their product related data to Google so that they can create the unthinkable (unless it is a different, less intrusive solution that I am not aware of!).

Google yet again is working hard to gain big from this "free" offering. Consumer shopping patterns and buying behavior is all now in the hands of Google, which can mine the search data to figure out what products are being searched the most in each retail website, what products are carried by them and what products don't sell. With onsite search becoming the most used feature on a website as it becomes the easiest and first point of interaction for a customer to shop, literally everything about the fate of the website can be deduced by Google through the patterns it sees. This can obviously be used to improve the Google Shopping experience and the way products are displayed in Google's search engine, which in turn is the bread winner for the company via its Adwords program.

Time will tell if this is something retailers will sign up for. Most major retailers don't need Google search on their website. They have enough money and are spending enough on SEO and paid  Adwords campaigns to attract customers, following which they have better onsite search solutions to convert them. Even without Google onsite search, they can get enough insights into onsite search behavior if they are ending up using say Google Analytics as their in-house Analytics powerhouse. Now, this brings up an interesting question though. Maybe Google is also planning to make some interesting improvements to onsite search reporting in Google Analytics. It could possibly show detailed product information and conversion breakdown so that retailers know what products are selling better or are not working. Overall, I think Google's product team is relentlessly trying to touch every possible area in retail and somehow link it to their cash cow- Adwords. Nice going!!


Book Review: Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis

Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis
Highly recommended for those who want to learn what the heck trading and investment banking at Wall Street is all about. Of course, this book reads more like a well written comedy/parody about Wall Street but Michael Lewis clearly explains how Investment Banks function across the world by talking about his stint at Salomon Brothers.

It was also very interesting to know the history of how Salomon Brothers created the mortgage based financial instruments in the 80s. I was very amused reading this book and comparing it with the fact that this mortgage backed security has been so abused over the years leading to the financial crisis of today in the US economy. Who said there are only smart people in investment banking!?


Book Review: Made in Japan by Akio Morita

Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony
Great story on how Akio Morita orchestrated the growth of the Japanese electronics industry following the death and destruction in World War II. Stories of the small guy taking on the big guys is always interesting to read and this book has a lot of that.

I recommend this book for those interested in understanding how Sony Corporation grew to become what it is today and how Japanese corporations worked their way in the International markets that were highly dominated in a “protected” way by large western firms during the 60s and 70s. This book is certainly inspirational for all the entrepreneurs of the World who want to make it big. It shows how perseverance and the will power to do something different will come a long way towards a firm’s success than investor funding will do. From a small factory in a war torn nation, the founders of the company successfully nurtured a dedicated group of workers who formed the core team that made Sony’s products. The story of how they came up with the name “Sony” is also an interesting read. The founders wanted a name that would sound more global and generic rather than like a Japanese name.

The fact that Sony is struggling today with the lack of any innovative or competitive products in the marketplace seems to indicate how transformation in any organization where the mantle is passed is subject to the fight between incumbents and the new entrants. A company has to always be nimble and watch out for how the marketplace is evolving. A competitor always comes unannounced and innovation always takes the market by surprise. Amazon’s kindle e-reader took off when Sony was still wondering how best to create a better e-reader. When innovation in television display and packaging was accelerating, Sony took a cautious approach that slowed its growth in the market. Every company has a lesson to learn in history, but Sony has definitely sealed a legacy of its own.

Book Review: The Walmart Effect by Charles Fishman

The Walmart Effect by Charles Fishman
Charles Fishman has written a mostly unbiased account of Walmart and its influence on its customers, competitors, suppliers, the economy and several players throughout the world. I personally met Charles Fishman when he came with a jar of Vlasic pickles to my Business School. The Charles Fishman that I met that day was a different man than what one would expect to see from the book he had written.

Mr. Fishman talked more about the CFL bulbs that Walmart influenced GE to develop and several of its other sustainability initiatives across the world. These findings were from a trip to Walmart’s headquarters that he made after his book became a huge success. He ended up adding additional pages about these in his new updated edition that he promoted over there.

Overall, this book has made Walmart think and act positively in one of the greatest ways an American corporate firm has ever responded to constructive criticism.


Book Review: Ramakrishna- His Life and Sayings by Max Muller

Ramakrishna - His Life and Sayings by Max Muller
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in philosophy. However, I found the initial part of the book to be the most interesting. It is a commentary by one of the then western world’s authority on Indian History, Max Muller.

Max Muller talks about the philosophical leanings of ancient India much before foreigners set foot in the country thereby trying to subtly disprove the primitive connotations that several other European historians of that time had attached to India. 

He was in particular fascinated by saints like Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and tried to explain through his own “unbiased” approach on the advancements in critical thinking in the country. The sayings of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa are interesting and mixed with examples from daily life so that one can easily understand the deep inner meaning attached to them. Max Muller personally received these sayings from Swami Vivekananda and several other disciples. 

For anyone interested in analyzing History differently from what has been fed to us through a not so open educational system, this book serves that need and is part of a series of historical insights that we need to be aware of.


Book Review: Competing for the Future

Competing for the Future
This book is all about “core competence”, a term coined by the authors (Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad) several years before and had become an industry buzz word. I liked the book as it tried to elevate strategy to a different status, a more positive one, in the eyes of companies.

It was however surprising that nothing much has changed the shape and face of what strategy is in companies since the time this book was written. Strategy is still considered a burden in several organizations and consulting firms have taken control and ownership of that function. Strategy in effect has turned out to be a wasteful exercise involving several resources working over time to create nothing for the future.

Hamel and Prahalad come up with a strong viewpoint on how strategy is about what the future could look like from an industry transformation standpoint. This does not take into consideration what you as a company are doing today and how successful or unsuccessful you are today. This foresight is based on core competence and what it can do for a company. 
They then recommend that the company needs to evaluate what it should do today to get to that new World in the future. I think that is the single biggest change in mindset that I believe not may companies are willing to adopt even today. Strategy has definitely been about what we can do in the next 3-5 years, given what we have today as a company. A point that the authors raise in their book and try to change.

This is a good read and has obviously been a top seller since a long time. The point that it hasn’t changed the industry landscape and strategy’s position in general may however make you wonder whether academic dictum really means anything in a corporate world where bureaucracy rules and “change” is always hard to adapt to.

Book Review: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari
Self help books are scattered around book stores and the internet around the world. These books obviously center around tips, tricks to plain diktat about how one should lead life to be successful at home and in their career.

I personally find most of the books as misleading or in most cases confusing around their objectives. Some of the advice does work but it just seems that the “always works” formula these books recommend don’t work.

This book by Robin Sharma can in one way be looked at as just another self help book. However, it does deviate from the other books in a couple of interesting ways. First of all, it is as the name suggests, written as a spiritual fable. It is fiction. Yet, it tries to squeeze out the reality of our existence through a pretty simple story. This, I believe is very hard to pull through and the author did a great job of that.

Second, the book tries to get away from the get rich quickly schemes and so called personal management for greatness theories by emphasizing on some age old principles of human development- mastery of the mind, simplicity and discipline, selfless service to others and the setting of personal, professional and spiritual goals.

A couple of words of wisdom that I liked in the book were- “the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your thoughts”, “Never sacrifice happiness for achievement”, “By elevating the lives of others, your life reaches its highest dimension” and “Discipline is built by consistently performing small acts of courage”.