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New Google Cloud retail tool targets search abandonment

The new tool is aimed at providing better results for online shoppers. It understands user intent and context, provides results for broad inquiries, and includes semantic search.

Google Cloud today introduced a new tool aimed at reducing search abandonment by online shoppers.

Retailers lose out on some $300 billion a year due to search abandonment, when consumers leave an e-commerce website after failing to find an item they're searching for, according to Google Cloud and The Harris Poll.

Google said its Retail Search tool is generally available now.

Retail Search will help retailers improve the shopping experience for consumers by better understanding user intent and context, according to Google.

Improving customer experience

Retail Search enables retailers to provide good quality search results from broad search inquiries, includes semantic search so product attributes are matched with website content quickly, and optimized results that include user interaction and ranking models to help retailers meet their business goals.

Although most retailers have their own search tools built in, many have been trying to improve customer experience particularly as many consumers are shopping online in recent years, said Michael Fauscette, an analyst at Arion Research.

And while Google's main e-commerce competitor Amazon has search tools for retailers, the combination of Retail Search with other retail tools Google Cloud offers -- including Vision API Product search and recommendation engines -- ought to be powerful and trustworthy for retailers, Fauscette said.

"Google has the brand in search," he said.

What retailers gain

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) has been able to gain traction in the retail industry due to retailers' concern that they may be helping Amazon with their data and payments since they also compete with Amazon, said Forrester analyst Tracy Woo.

"Some retailers worry that AWS would sabotage a retailer's availability during peak periods or prioritize Amazon.com's searches," she said.

GCP's AI and machine learning analytics capabilities also draw retailers to the vendor.

"Retail Search will only enhance this, as search is the most integral and key part of an online shopping experience," Woo said. "The quality of search and the ability to profile consumer needs are key to gaining new customers and getting the click to purchase conversion."

For Google's part, Retail Search will help it gain more foothold in the cloud market and amass more data, Woo said.

These are machine learning algorithms. The more data collected, the better the results. Retailers benefit from Google's superior search capabilities.
Tracy WooAnalyst, Forrester

"These are machine learning algorithms," Woo said. "The more data collected, the better the results. Retailers benefit from Google's superior search capabilities."

Google said it is providing the Retail Search tool to customers as an API and Google has no direct access to customer data.

“It’s a contract with a customer to use our service,” a Google spokesman said. “We’re growing our customer base of retailers. We’re really focusing on helping retailers with the problem of search abandonment.”

However, Woo said even with an API Google can still use searches to train their model for better results in the future.

The Google spokesman responded: “We use a retailer’s data to provide the Retail Search services, which includes training customer-specific models that improve the search results on the digital properties for that specific customer.”

“A retailer’s data is not used to improve Google Search nor is it combined with Chrome browser data,” he said.*

And while it may feel like the new search product is another way for Google to intrude on consumers' shopping experience, that's a tradeoff shoppers understand, Woo said.

"It's the balance with digital convenience -- convenience versus intrusion," she continued. "Most modern e-commerce shoppers understand the tradeoff and are willing to put up with it for the sake of getting better results and getting the product they need sooner."

Although it is stepping up data collection for retailers, Google Cloud claims Retail Search includes effective security and privacy features. The vendor said retailers' data will be isolated with strong access control, and will only be used to deliver relevant search results for the retailers' own purposes.

But while most enterprises use cloud because they see it as being more secure than on premises, cloud platforms are still vulnerable to data breaches and attacks, Woo said.

"It's not really a matter of if, but when," she said.

New Google comments were added to this story, along with other revisions for clarity.

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