You might only be looking to buy a plunger but from Google’s point of view, these kind of “in stock near me” search queries remain its bread-and-butter product within its most dominant business — albeit one that it is planning to dramatically modify through the increased use of technology.
This, as the California-based company said it is increasing the use of such digital tools as natural language processing (NLP), visual search and artificial intelligence (AI) to make the retail experience more seamless and intuitive.
“We are supercharging our visual search capabilities to help people find what they are looking for at businesses nearby,” Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai told investors on the company’s Q3 webcast, pointing to the obvious enhancements and integration opportunities that exist with Google Maps to monetize “near me” searches, as well as terms like “open new” or “in stock.”
“Through advanced language models, AI is unlocking new experiences that support more natural and conversational ways to interact with computing,” Pichai added, referring to the company’s LaMDA initiative — short for “Language Model for Dialogue Applications” — that was unveiled in 2021 and uses AI to make voice search more intuitive and conversational.
AI and the New Search
Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler drilled down on Pichai’s remarks, saying Google is applying AI breakthroughs in other areas to shopping and search on the platform.
Noting that AI, NLP and Google Lens are “fueling innovation across our Ads product via insights, automation and easier-to-use advertising tools and formats, we’re helping businesses stay agile, build resilience, anticipate the future and show up for customers in more connected, visual and consistent ways. We’re helping them understand demand, deal with inventory challenges, increase loyalty and much more.”
“No matter where shoppers are buying, whether it’s in-store, online or both, we have the solutions to help them deliver results wherever their customers are,” Schindler added, calling out several brands benefitting from a focus on search and insights.
The Cross-Channel Opportunity
The “2022 Global Digital Shopping Index,” a PYMNTS and Cybersource collaboration, found that approximately 130 million consumers in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States now use their smartphones to shop — whether to shop in stores, order grocery deliveries via app or enable touchless payments at the brick-and-mortar point of sale (POS).
“These behaviors are pushing merchants to provide a fully cross-channel shopping experience and the digital shopping features needed to support it,” the study stated.
“Whether shoppers know exactly what they’re looking for or are just seeking inspiration, we’re innovating to make it easier and more engaging for people to shop online across our services,” Schindler said, pointing to the challenge of finding relevance by sorting through 200 million available daily deals that appeared in Q3 from all manner of merchants.
“Now when you type ‘shop’ followed by whatever item you’re looking for, you’ll unlock a visual content stream of ideas that feel just like window shopping but online,” he added.
In response to an analyst’s question on AI being embedded even deeper into search, Pichai said “on the AI front, we are still in very early innings,” adding that AI is making search more multimodal and visual with “things like Google Lens bringing visual search into being able to point your phone at things and ask questions, all that really helps set up Search well for the future of where computing is headed.”
As much as Pichai said there has been “massive improvement in Search, he said Google’s AI efforts on this front are still in the “very early innings” but are already helping to extend its lead over competitors, particularly in the budding area of mobile-based visual search.
“We are definitely using [Search] to make it multimodal,” Pichai said. “And being able to point your phone at things and ask questions all really helps set up Search well for the future of where computing is headed.”
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