Google Cloud helps retailers compete against Amazon with a new search tool

With Retail Search, retailers can bring "Google-quality" search capabilities to their own digital platforms.

Google on Tuesday announced Google Cloud Retail Search, a new tool to help retailers improve the product search capabilities across their e-commerce platforms. The cloud provider says it gives retailers "Google-quality" search capabilities that are customizable for their own unique business needs. 

The new tool comes after a make-or-break year for retailers, which had to step up their digital capabilities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, those retailers are still competing against the Goliath of digital sales -- Amazon's share of US e-commerce climbed up in 2020, reaching nearly 40 percent.

Amid that backdrop, Google says "search abandonment" is a serious challenge for retailers. According to research conducted by The Harris Poll, commissioned by Google Cloud, "search abandonment" costs retailers more than $300 billion a year. Customers simply can't find what they're looking for and move on.

Retail Search is designed to address that problem with Google's understanding of user intent and context. The service uses that understanding to analyze customer activity across websites and mobile apps, and it maps customer intent to product inventory. Retailers can use the tool to build search experiences that include auto-suggestions, personalized results and relevant promotions. Machine-learning-based search results improve with every query. 

"Providing quality search results is an industry-wide challenge," Srikanth Belwadi, Google Cloud group product manager, said in a statement. "While traditional search platforms are keyword-based, Google's semantic understanding of query intent and product Knowledge Graph enables retailers to dramatically improve experiences for customers with learning-based search. Retail Search helps get shoppers what they want faster, leading to higher conversion rates and happier consumers."

Macy's is already using Retail Search after doing a pilot run, which it said improved click-through rates and revenue per visit. "Understanding our customers' needs and being able to deliver results seamlessly is critical to providing an enjoyable shopping experience," Jilberto Soto, director of product management for search at Macy's, said in a statement. 

Last year, even before the pandemic took hold in the US, Macy's opted to double down on its digital growth strategy while closing several brick-and-mortar storefronts. In May of this year, the company reported that digital sales accounted for 37 percent of its net revenue, 13 points higher than Q1 2019. 

Retail Search is a fully-managed service that joins a suite of other tools Google has created for retailers: Product Discovery Solutions for Retail. Google Cloud's unified Retail API allows developers to easily implement and integrate the search tool with other Product Discovery Solutions, such as Recommendations AI and Vision Product Search. 

Since Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian took the helm of the business in 2019, Google Cloud has taken an industry-focused sales approach, zeroing in on six key verticals, including retail. The industry is a natural fit for the cloud company, given its wariness of Amazon.

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