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!!

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