Google Gives Etailers a Taste of Search as You Type

Google introduced a pilot program Wednesday to allow more e-commerce merchants to add Search as You Type results to their product search tools.

Search as You Type works within a retailer’s existing search system but adds Google’s predictive text, spelling suggestions and product photos and information. The added suggestions will help improve sales by turning more searches into buys, Google claims.

The feature, which runs on the cloud, is already available for retailers that that purchase Google Commerce Search. With the enterprise package, retailers pay at least US$25,000 per year to customize their searches using Google’s indexing.

For companies that don’t purchase Google Commerce Search, though, Google started offering the Search as You Type results for free on up to 25 million queries per year for U.S.-based AdWords advertisers. The retailers can use it for free for e-commerce websites, and after 25 million annual searches, merchants can pay for the feature.

The Urge to Browse

The opportunity for retailers to improve sales with quicker, more thorough search results could be huge, said Kevin Eichelberger, founder and CEO of e-commerce agency Blue Acorn, especially when considering smaller e-commerce sites that don’t shell out the $25,000 or more per year to utilize Google’s Commerce Search Package.

“Anytime you can help consumers find what they’re looking for faster, you’re going to improve the user experience and in turn, conversions,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

But the feature can have its downsides, as well, said Eichelberger. Browsing can be a moneymaker in online sales. While quick and customized search results give shoppers the convenience they’re looking for online, it could take away the possibility of spontaneous extra purchases.

“With this tool, you are narrowing your focus on only a small subset of your products, which may not be a good thing if you want the consumer to be able to browse your entire selection,” he said. “By guiding users through a process that essentially skips the search result page altogether, you are potentially taking away from the browsing experience.”

Site owners must weigh those pros and cons before committing to Search as You Type, so Google’s free pilot launch is a compelling offer for retailers that aren’t sure whether the feature is right for them, said Mark Ballard, senior research analyst at Rimm-Kaufman Group. He also noted that Google is not the only company to offer customized results, so it could be looking to draw new customers with this launch.

“The big question here is whether or not this is going to make people switch from a different system to Google,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “If they can get a better price, or 25 million searches for free, that’s definitely attractive compared to what existing search providers are offering.”

Google Incentives

Google positions its Search as You Type feature toward retailers looking to up conversion rates, and that return on investment can also help keep customers loyal to the search engine giant, said Eichelberger.

“Many of Google’s tools have focused on improving conversion rates, and thus the return on advertising,” he said. “This is another offer by Google aimed to increase conversions, thus improving advertising performance, and in the end, hopefully bigger advertising budgets.”

The company isn’t just hoping its advertising investments grow. With a greater web presence across e-commerce platforms, Google’s influence and consumer knowledge can also be greatly improved as more merchants turn to its service. The company has made recent moves to dip further into the e-commerce space, said Eichelberger, including significant changes to Google Product Search and rolling out Google Trusted Stores.

“The common trend here is that you see Google putting a great deal of energy into e-commerce, and as part of these initiatives, they have access to a lot more commerce data than they used to,” he said. “How they determine to use that data is yet to be determined, but as an advertising company, data is gold.”

Google didn’t respond to our requests for further details.

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