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Google Now Could Turn E-Commerce on Its Ear

By Rachelle Dragani
May 6, 2014 12:38 PM PT

Google on Monday announced it is rolling out a new feature for Google Now that aims to blend the brick-and-mortar and online retail worlds.

Google Now Could Turn E-Commerce on Its Ear

Available now for Android phones, the feature notifies users when they're physically near a store that might have a recently searched-for item available. For instance, a person who searched on Google for a specific surfboard would receive an alert when walking near a store that normally carries that particular model.

Google Now

A picture and pricing information would appear in the notification, but the feature doesn't go so far as to inform the user whether the item currently is in stock.

Android users must update their Google Search app to use the feature.

Natural Progression

Google already has wormed its way into the physical world of mobile users with its maps and search dominance, noted e-commerce consultant Rob Abdul. It's a natural progression for the company to help some of its main partners -- advertisers, that is -- also benefit from Google's location-based tools.

"It's a win-win situation," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Google Now is the next evolutionary step to building on other services that allow Google users to list their services, such as Google Places for Business."

It's another way to make Google an indispensable product, whether it's in or out of the home, said Doug Stephens, founder of Retail Prophet and author of Retail Revival.

"It's brilliant," he told the E-Commerce Times. "It's a meta-service that begins to learn more about us as consumers and increasingly begins to point us toward things of interest in the physical world. The whole premise behind Google Now is to become the omnipresent digital assistant in our lives, so it makes perfect sense for it to also curate our consumer lives."

Consumer Thumbs Up?

With the right idea in place, the question is how well Google can execute, said Ron Rule, CTO of As Seen On TV. It might take some convincing to get consumers on board with the idea.

"It will be interesting to see what the consumer reaction and adoption rate will be," he told the E-Commerce Times. "There will always be some percentage that considers it an invasion of privacy and will disable these features, but for those who wish to use it, it will be difficult to engage its effectiveness."

That's in part because of the kinds of companies that would benefit the most from the service, Rule noted.

"Given Google's preference for returning local results when possible, the small shops who have taken the time to launch e-commerce sites showing their inventory are already getting the lion's share of their local search traffic. If they didn't get the sale already, there's a reason for that," he pointed out.

"For the ones that don't have any inventory online and are being matched to users based on a category search, if the local shop doesn't have the item the user was looking for after Google recommended it, they'll start to distrust the recommendations," Rule said.

Ironing out the details will come with time, Stephens suggested. Until then, the launch is an indication that Google understands the opportunity that awaits a successful merger of the brick-and-mortar and mobile commerce worlds.

"Generally speaking, we should be looking for e-commerce to become far more blurred with physical retail and also contextual and place-based than it is today." he added. "E-commerce today is really not much more than digital catalogs that I have to consciously go to and shop. In the future, products will come to us rather than us having to go to them."

Rachelle Dragani is a freelance reporter based in Brooklyn, NY. She enjoys staying on top of e-commerce deals, reporting on what new gadget is coming your way, and keeping tabs on anyone trying to hack into your info. Feel free to e-mail her at You can also connect with her on Google+.

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