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Google is rolling out new features for retailers that are designed to make stores and products more discoverable, improve search and apply visual capabilities to commerce.
The announcements rolled out this week during ShopTalk, where Allan Thygesen, Google’s President of Americas & Global Partners elaborated on the updates in a keynote.
Here’s a look at the latest product updates:
'Trusted Store' badge
In 2020, the company made it free for any merchant to list on Google Shopping.
Adding a tool designed to help make these listings more discoverable, Google is introducing a new Shopping Experience Scorecard program, which will provide a rating in areas such as shipping speed, shipping cost, return cost, and return windows. Merchants who provide excellent service, may receive a Trusted Store badge, which will appear alongside their product listings on the Shopping tab.
Google’s early testing showed that merchants who receive a trusted badge are more likely to receive clicks, and there are signs that lesser-known merchants are receiving more traffic.
Other tools are being made available that make it easier to measure the impact of a free listing. This includes a feature called "free listings conversion reporting," which shows total traffic, impressions and conversion rate of a free listing to help merchants make decisions for the future.
Brands and retailers are always seeking new tools to figure out the best pricing, and that's another area where Google has new tools. Google is also releasing a price insights tool, which offers merchants a suggested price for a product, as well as predicted impressions, clicks, conversions and gross profit. It allows merchants to compare prices of similar items sold by other retailers, as well as potential revenue if they were to change the price.
Google Cloud is also releasing its new Retail Search product to general availability. This offers technology to improve search capabilities within a retailer’s website.
“We know that as much as there's discovery on Google's sites, there's a lot of discovery on all of your websites,” Thygesen told retailers. “We’re trying to enable our retail partners to leverage our understanding of user context and intent to provide Google quality search and recommendations on your own digital properties.”
This is solving a key problem when it comes to helping shoppers find products:
“Traditional search technologies don't work in the modern age of online retail, where tens or even hundreds of thousands of items are available on a single ecommerce site,” Google wrote in a blog post. “Today, people expect search engines to understand their intent more deeply, return relevant results faster, and help them discover new products easily with personalized recommendations."
It’s a factor that plays into data that showed 94% of US consumers abandoned a shopping session because they received irrelevant search results, according to a 2021 survey conducted by The Harris Poll and Google Cloud.
Retail Search is designed to improve the results shown on a retailer's website more intuitive and contextual. The idea is that this will more closely align the phrase that the shopper types in, and the results that appear in search.
Google said it is already in use by retailers including Lowe’s, Fnac Darty and Pernambucanas.
On the topic of product search that is designed to more closely reflect what a person has in mind, Google released a new tool in the days following ShopTalk that allows users to put images beside words. Multisearch, which is currently available to US English speakers, uses Google Lens and leverages recent AI advances.
Here's how it works, according to Google:
To get started, simply open up the Google app on Android or iOS, tap the Lens camera icon and either search one of your screenshots or snap a photo of the world around you, like the stylish wallpaper pattern at your local coffee shop. Then, swipe up and tap the "+ Add to your search" button to add text.
Once users add the image, they can also add a query to what they see. For instance, after placing a photo of a dress, they can instruct Google to search for it in a different color.
Thygesen also detailed a few key areas at the intersection of shopping and emerging technologies, as well as Google’s role in the landscape:
- Visual search: Google is seeking to enable “window shopping” right on a brand or retailer’s search results. This means adding visuals of a product alongside the description.
- YouTube: “Experimenting with new ways viewers can seamlessly discover and purchase products on YouTube, I think, will become very important,” Thygesen said. The idea is to allow users to shop products without leaving a video. Across both Google and YouTube, he said, “You'll see a lot more live shopping, social shopping and creator-assisted shopping.”
- Personalization: Asked to look a few years out and reflect on where ecommerce experiences are heading, Thygesen said shoppers will expect products and services that both show an understanding of a shopper’s taste and preferences, as well as forge an emotional connection early in the process of engagement. “I think we'll see a lot more personalized experiences at scale in the future of digital shopping,” he said.
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A tough round of tech layoffs are continuing into 2023.
Friday brought more layoffs across ecommerce, as a more difficult economic climate continued to leave tech and retail platforms seeking to reduce costs in the first month of 2023.
On Friday, the following moves were announced:
- Alphabet, the parent of search and commerce advertising giant Google, will cut 12,000 jobs, which accounts for 6% of its global workforce.
- Wayfair, the home and furniture ecommerce marketplace, will lay off 1,750 people, or 10% of its workforce.
- Saks.com is planning to lay off about 100 people, or 3.5% of its workforce, WWD reported.
In each case, it means a person lost their job. It also points to the business reality of operating at a time of massive economic swings. Companies staffed up when demand was high and capital was plentiful. Now, they are seeing a pullback in both, and rewriting their futures accordingly.
Here’s a look at each of the situations:
The layoff news at Google was communicated in a Friday morning email to employees from Sundar Pichai, who is the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. Pichai wrote that the layoffs would cut across “Alphabet, product areas, functions, levels and regions,” but wasn’t specific about how commerce-related functions will be affected.
Pichai sounded a similar note to other leaders of the largest tech companies, referencing how the company hired quickly as tech boomed during the pandemic, and is now pulling back.
“Over the past two years we’ve seen periods of dramatic growth,” Pichai said. “To match and fuel that growth, we hired for a different economic reality than the one we face today.”
This week showed that tech layoffs aren’t relenting as 2023 begins. The news came on the same week that Amazon began a previously-announced round of reductions that will bring the total roles affected by the last several months of cutting to 18,000 roles. The layoffs are focused on the company’s commerce division, as well as people operations. Microsoft, which wants to play a bigger role in commerce but does not have as large a business as those companies, also said this week that it will lay off 10,000 employees, or 5% of the company’s workforce.
Wayfair said that about 1,200 of its 1,750 layoffs will affect people who hold corporate positions, amounting to 18% of that workforce. The reduction was described in a news release as an effort to “eliminate management layers and reorganize to be more agile.”
“The changes announced today strengthen our future without reducing our total addressable market, our strategic objectives, or our ability to deliver them over time,” said Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah, in a statement. “In hindsight, similar to our technology peers, we scaled our spend too quickly over the last few years.”
Wayfair said its job cuts are coming on the heels of a restructuring in August. All told, they will amount to $750 million in savings. The company is also working to realize another $650 million in non-labor-associated savings through reductions in spending on operations, advertising and capital expenditures.
Shah said that the holiday shopping period brought a positive topline performance, with order volume being a bright spot. However, the company has long struggled on the bottom line. It has racked up $980 million in losses so far this year.
GlobalData Managing Director Neil Saunders called the layoffs “a necessary step to right-size a business that has been profligate in spending but has been far less successful in delivering a return.” But he said the actions should have been taken “many years ago,” and said it will be a low-margin business even if it does reach sustainability through the cost-cutting moves.
At Wayfair, “the costs of customer acquisition, the amount of advertising required to drive sales, and the cost of servicing those sales are all incredibly high,” Saunders said. “Traditionally, this has been justified by a massive expansion in the revenue line. However, post-pandemic revenue has been in decline; and with the current state of the consumer economy, going back to the stellar growth of the past looks highly unlikely.”
While the layoffs at Saks.com are of a notably smaller size than those detailed above, the layoffs do underscore how challenges are affecting individual brands and retailers, as opposed to being confined to the platforms that power commerce.
It’s also a reminder of the role that venture capital played in fueling ecommerce growth over the last several years. In 2021, Saks’ ecommerce business was spun out from Saks’ brick and mortar stores by owner HBC through a $500 million investment from private equity firm Insight Partners. The ecommerce company then staffed up following the split, but is now seeking to manage costs, WWD reported.