Google is the consumers' choice when searching for information. Will Google be the consumers' choice when shopping? Consider this:
Customer reviews, the UGC core to consumers' shopping process and a key traffic driver for sites, is also prominent in Google's shopping capability.
No question, Google is a quasi retailer. The questions are, at what point in time will Google's experience be compelling enough to occupy more of the consumers' shopping process? And, what actions should retailers and brands take to be top of mind and get the consumer directly into their shopping experiences (whether those experiences are in their stores, on their site, or on Facebook)? There will be winners and losers.
In this column, I'll set the stage and lay out the timeline and my observations of Google's shopping capabilities. Most readers are aware of the following individual actions. What I've found is very few have pieced together these individual actions, seen the material change over the past months, considered the implications, and clarified the strategy and program in response.
Google Shopping Visual Timeline
2002 Froogle: It all started in 2002 when Froogle launched. Froogle was added as a home page link in early 2004. You'll notice there are only five links above the search box. Froogle is one of those five. As such, Google was clear eight years ago that product search and shopping are a meaningful part of its business.
2007 Shopping: Froogle was removed as a home page link in late 2006. Google rebranded to Google Product Search. And in late 2007, a "Shopping" link occupied one of the coveted spaces above the search box. Shopping is a word consumers easily understand. Froogle, not so much. Great change by Google.
2007 DoubleClick: Google acquired DoubleClick and launched an affiliate advertising network. With this acquisition, Google now has a larger data set of consumer behavior in the context of shopping.
Let's look at a SERP for a portable DVD player (a hot product back in 2008). You'll notice a few things.
2008 to 2009 Shopping OneBox and Product Listing Ads: Google's innovation in service of the user experience results in more real estate for Google and less for organic on the SERP page one. While the user experience was not optimal, Google learned and is responding.
Let's look at the SERP in January 2010.
2010 customer reviews: In April 2010, Google incorporated the consumers' number one social tool in the buying process, customer reviews. Reviews are incorporated in many places: Google shopping (example 1), Google OneBox on the SERP, Google product ads, and in organic search through retailers' and brands' use of Rich Snippets (example 2).
Let's look at the SERP in January 2011.
Google's learning and innovation around shopping continues with the acquisition of Like.com, brand refinements in search results, and the launch of Boutiques.com.
2011 Google+: In July, Google took another run at social networking, unveiling Google+, a big bet for the company and an effort to show that it can keep up with Facebook in this increasingly important space. However, it's important to recognize that the launch of Google+ was not just a run at Facebook - it's a reflection of the increasing importance the company places on social signals in how it indexes, ranks, and presents information to consumers. Even though +1 buttons are not as ubiquitous as the Facebook "Like" button, it's early days. I believe Google can reach the ubiquity Facebook has on sites. Google has the killer app on the web: search. It has an enviable customer franchise with more people engaging with the brand more frequently than any other brand on the planet. Google will/has incorporated +1 into the search algorithm, giving more relevance to the user, continuing to solidify the relationship with the user, and further distancing the direct relationship with your site.
Below, you'll notice Google+ has been incorporated into the search engine results page (SERP) via a toolbar.
Steps for You to Take
This column, first published March 29, 2011, was updated Dec. 27, 2011.
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Cathy has over 20 years of experience in both multichannel and online retail and a deep understanding of consumer needs and goals. Cathy's proven track record spans a range of industries and companies, from start-up ventures to multibillion dollar operations. Cathy is currently a Board Member at Ulta Beauty (ULTA), the largest beauty retailer that provides one-stop shopping for prestige, mass, and salon products and salon services in the United States. She has served as SVP, marketing & sales at PowerReviews, the world's most widely deployed social commerce platform, where she was responsible for overseeing the company's rapid customer and revenue growth. Prior to PowerReviews, Cathy held executive-level positions at Walmart: chief marketing officer Walmart.com, vice president of market development, global e-commerce, and vice president of product management and multichannel integration. Ms. Halligan has also held executive positions with leading retailers Williams-Sonoma, Gymboree, and Blue Nile, and was an associate partner at Prophet, a leading management consulting firm. She started her career as a marketing coordinator at Lands' End.
For real-time social commerce news and updates, follow Cathy on Twitter at @CathyHalligan.
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