Search Til You Drop: Google Launches Hosted Commerce Search For Retailers

Searching retail sites can be frustrating at times. While many retailers try to present product search in a visually appealing way, search can often be slow or difficult to refine. Tonight, Google is making a huge play in retail space with the launch of Commerce Search, a hosted enterprise search product to power online retail stores and e-commerce websites.

Google offers a general hosted search product that is used by organizations that want to add customized Google search functionality to their websites. Google is now entering the vertical space, by the first tailor-made enterprise product, with retail optimized space. There are four key components to thew new search offering for retailers:

Speed: Google promises “ultra-fast speed and accuracy” by leveraging Google’s search technology to provide sub-second response time to customer searches on retail sites. Commerce Search also uses a proprietary ranking technology to analyze the products in each data feed and serve the most relevant match. Google says that faster search speed will help increase conversions to buy products, as customers can quickly find specific products without having to navigate complex search interfaces.

E-commerce-Specific Search: Google Commerce offers a variety of features that are optimized for retail and product search, such as parametric search, sorting of results, spell checker, stemming, and synonym suggestion, which in some way or another let users to refine and target their searches. I’m told hosted search uses several proprietary signals to determine the ranking of search result. Commerce also offers a compelling product promotions features, that lets retailers fine-tune search results to push promoted products to the top of results. The search interface allows for retailers to specifically label products as promoted.

One of my bones to pick with Google Commerce was that it’s interface may be to simple for retail sites like Saks, Bloomingdales or others who tend to display products in a more visually appealing way. Presentation, whether it be real-store or online, matters. But Nitin Mangtani, Lead Product Manager for Google Enterprise Search, told me that the Google Commerce Search API allows retailers to fully customize the search experience on their website and add all the bells and whistles they need to make the interface match the rest of their site. And, retailers using Commerce don’t need to show the Google logo on the search site.

Scalability: Because Commerce Search is hosted by Google and based in the cloud, Google says it’s easily scalable to absorb additional traction on the site. For example, says Mangtani, during the holiday season, retailers will most probably experience high traffic on search. Google will ensure that retailers can manage the boost in traffic and scale the search application. And Mangtani adds that once all product data is incorporated, search can be deployed on any e-commerce site fairly quickly.

Leveraging Other Google Products: Google promises integration with other Google products like Google Analytics and Google Product Search. Using Commerce, retailers can measure clicks, conversion rates, number of transactions, average order value and other data via Google Analytics. And e-commerce vendors can provide a single feed of products and catelogue items that will power Commerce and indexing of their products on Google Product Search. Product Search (formerly Froogle) was blends shopping results with Google search.

Google didn’t release too many details on its pricing mode for Commerce Search, but a spokeswoman told me that the product will start at $50,000 per year. Beyond that, pricing will be based on the number of products (SKUs) in the customer’s database and the number of search queries entered on their site each year. This pricing isn’t cheap so obviously this appeals to bigger retailers and e-commerce shops. Google has already partnered with Birkenstock USA to power search, which looks mediocre. It was a little simple for my taste and it lacked a visible search bar but I’m really interested to see what can be done with Commerce for more embellished e-commerce sites. Google Commerce will now compete with the likes of Omniture, Endeca, and others.

Google is playing into “conversion rates” when advertising the product for retailers, saying that while the average online retailer conversion rate is just three percent, it could be five to ten times higher with a powerful search technology. With Commerce, Google is making an aggressive move in the retail space. Google Product hasn’t really taken off, but Commerce could and could effect the use of Google Product as well (and maybe Google Checkout?). Google’s other enterprise search offerings have steadily gaining users, so it should be interesting to see if the search giant can make inroads with big-name retailers.