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Searching for an improved online shopping experience? Google has a new plan

November 4, 2009 |  9:00 pm

Google_store_sorting
Google offered this example of how an online store using Google Commerce Search could look, with searchable products sortable by category, color, size or price. Credit: Google.

Just in time for the holidays, Google Inc. took the wraps off a new business, one designed to help big online retailers make their websites easier to search.

With Google Commerce Search -- a service that will cost retailers $50,000 or more for an annual subscription -- the Internet giant will set up a search function on an online retailer's website, which Google says will dramatically improve user experience and drive sales. The product represents a challenge to Google's archrival Microsoft Corp., as well as to Oracle Corp., Endeca Technologies Inc. and other firms that run retailers' websites.

The main selling points are that everything that has made Google a dominant company -- vast computing resources, algorithms that provide right results, and even the ability to fix your typos and find what you're looking for -- will help people navigate clunky retail websites that cause a major stumbling block to sales.

"Search was the most important aspect of an e-commerce experience," said Nitin Mangtani, a lead product manager at Google. People go to a website looking to buy, say, a laptop, and they search the site for the item they want. "If the users are able to find that laptop easily, they are more likely to buy the product," Mangtani said. "If it takes them eight to 10 seconds, and they can't find it easily, they leave the website."

Whereas people have high expectations, websites weren't delivering, so Google saw an opportunity, the company said.

Search engine analyst Greg Sterling said...

... that when Google rolls out new ventures, they typically work for the company on several levels, and this sounds like it's no exception.

It gives the company a toehold into software for big business, which it has been trying to do for awhile. The new service helps Google diversify its revenue base. Despite Google's many sidelines, such as YouTube and desktop applications, its main source of income remains search advertising. And it could give the company more data about consumer behavior, something Google always craves. "Google has always got multiple angles that they’re working," Sterling said.

But Google has to be careful, Sterling warned, because of some companies' growing fear that Google is becoming too powerful. "With every product Google rolls out now, they have this other burden: the shadow that they cast, the big footprint, their dominance in the market," Sterling said. "I don't know how merchants will react. Some may be cautious because they don’t want to be dependent on Google because of this concern."

Google has already dipped its toe in the online retail world with something called Google Product Search. That's free to companies who give Google the data about what they're selling so that Google can serve it up in a neat package on its own search page. If you've ever searched for a product and seen a box that says "shopping results" for the item you sought, that's Google Product Search. Google Commerce Search basically takes that formula to the next level, putting it on a company's site -- without the Google name or Google ads.

-- Dan Fost

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