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GUEST COMMENT Has Google’s new commerce search solution bridged the omnichannel gap for retailers?

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by Kevin Ludford

There are clearly two types of ecommerce retailer in today’s market. There are those etailers that trade purely online and there are our heritage bricks and mortar stores. They have very similar objectives: to increase conversion (be it online or through the stores) and improve customer reach. Both are also battling to improve back office efficiency in terms of stock management and order fulfilment to gain customer loyalty and increase revenue margins. Nothing has changed there.

However, the ‘traditional’ retailer has an added layer of complexity as they now realise that online isn’t just considered another virtual store. It’s actually an integrated revenue channel for their business. Etailers and retailers understand that conversion is key. Whether through physical point of sale or online merchandising, converting the browsing consumer into a paying customer or increasing the value of their order is critical. Let’s face it, they invest a lot of time and even more marketing spend trying to grab the consumers’ interest in the first place.

Online conversions are particularly challenging as you don’t have the trained assistant the shop floor. They do their bit. Some do it very well, others not so well. However, with online you have an entire catalogue of products available for the consumer to browse and research, but with little or no help. There is no one there to tell you need a boot cut jean with that top. Therefore, finding the exact product your consumers are searching for becomes a vital task within the first few seconds of them landing on your website. In fact, statistics say that between 50% and 75% of consumers use the search box as their first activity on a commerce site to locate or refine a product search before using any other navigational menus or promotions.

Once a product is found, the consumer then enters into the next stage of the conversion process around product match, alternative product suggestions, up and cross selling, through to availability and check out. It sounds fairly straightforward but it is in fact a very complex process around conversion, and warrants a whitepaper all of its own. Needless to say, the more seamless a journey the higher the probability of conversion.

So, how can search help conversion and more importantly convergence for traditional retailers?

Search itself has always been low in the pecking order when it comes to ecommerce projects. Most etailers tend to focus on the user journey, merchandising and the ‘I want the single page check-out’ requirement. Many forget that all of these features are somewhat redundant if your consumer cannot find the right product in the first place. Typically, ecommerce sites do not focus on good quality search capability from day one. It becomes a bit if an afterthought for many, with etailers preferring to focus on third party cloud solutions like product ratings and reviews and or recommendation engines as a way of addressing conversions.

This never ceases to amaze me given the statistics on how users prefer to use search but it’s not entirely the fault of the people building these platforms. Powerful ecommerce search technology has not been a commodity item. You could either invest hundreds of thousands of pounds for a solution like Endeca (Oracle) or leverage free open source search tools like lucene’s Solr to provide some level of search capability on your ecommerce website.

So, when Google launched their Commerce Search solution, was it just another commercial search offering or does it actually understand the complexity of ecommerce and the demands from both etailers and retailers looking to improve conversion rates? Let’s be honest, there are very few green field ecommerce projects today. We are usually called in to deal with what’s already there, so the fact that Google Commerce Search can be integrated as the on-site search solution within existing ecommerce sites is a definite advantage. Especially for those retailers already providing Google product feeds to Google.

They will immediately benefit from powerful search features such as auto complete, SAYT ‘search-as-you-type’ and Google’s Search Instant feature designed to provide sub-second response times for search result. Combine that with Google’s cloud server infrastructure and you have a globalized architecture that can provide speed of results anywhere in the world. It’s safe too.

That in itself would be a major step forward for thousands of ecommerce sites, but Google has clearly thought about the conversion process. They have enhanced Commerce Search with rich ‘searchandising’ features to allow the merchandiser to quickly and accurately promote products based on browser behaviour. For those etailers looking to implement a recommendations engine, Google combines search and recommendations capabilities. This includes Google product recommendations based on what other users are searching for or purchasing designed to increase conversions and the consumers average order value.

So, for the etailer and retailer alike, Google does seem to have taken a serious approach to ecommerce conversion by adding Google Commerce Search as the in-site search solution.

But what about the traditional bricks and mortar stores?

Well, it seems that Google Commerce Search now enables the inclusion of data from the feeds provided by the retailers’ local retail store inventory. So you can now support stock availability in your local stores for online purchasing decisions. This also allows retailers to offer many new services such as click and collect, mobile commerce search and purchase in order to finally tie the online and offline transaction worlds together. Together, etailers could add Google Commerce Search to create fast, unique, location aware product search experiences across online, mobile and in-store for today’s omnichannel consumer and support those retailers with a ’ joined up” strategy.

For the retailer I think the real limiting factor will be whether they have the back office infrastructure to support the presentation of live local inventory product data and availability in real time for the consumers. Get this bit right and we really have bridged that gap.

Kevin Ludford is chief executive of InventCommerce.

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