Firstly, there is this new homepage with various merchandising placements: “Popular products” / “Holiday gift guides” / “Seasonal” / “Checkout deals”. The last time Google Product Search put some merchandising modules on its homepage, it was only seasonal ; but it seems this homepage could make sense all year long… At the bottom of the page, there is a link to Boutiques.com, the new shopping destination Google launched in November.
Then, there are those new category pages where Google now displays popular products and visual assistance to help users refine their choice:
We’ve borrowed an idea from successful brick and mortar stores and in the coming weeks, we’ll roll-out two features called “popular products” and “aisles” to help people learn about and discover new products. When you search for a category of products such as “camera lenses,” our new popular products feature helps you get started by showing you the lenses other people are viewing online. “Aisles” helps you browse and discover products by organizing results into sub-categories that others have found helpful. For example, if you’re looking for a new TV, you can choose between display types like LCD and plasma. If you’re interested in camera lenses for that brand new SLR, you can shop by the aperture of the lens.
There are some good and bad in these new features. When starting on a category homepage, it’s pretty nice having popular products, those “aisles” and related buying guides… However, when you start refining inside the category, the result pages still use the same layout… As far as I have seen, there is no way to get access to classic search result pages with a pagination to browse among all products corresponding to the selected filters. This would not be such an issue if there were the right facets to browse inside categories.
For instance, I’m on the “Digital Camera / Canon” page and there is no way to choose only compact cameras… I’m left with 5 popular products (3 are SLRs) and the option to filter by megapixels or optical zoom… Stuck.
A good example where the underlying data are not good enough to power a quite interesting user interface…
Local product search is hot these days, especially with Milo that has just been acquired by eBay (owner of Shopping.com – waiting for synergies to come…). Here’s what SearchEngineLand says about this market:
For years offline product inventory information has been an aspiration for search engines and shopping sites. But now with a number of startups chasing the segment and building the infrastructure, and with the advent of mobile and LBS, retailers see product data as a way to drive mobile and online customers into stores. According to estimates and surveys by the e-Tailing Group, roughly 15 to 20 percent of US retailers now have real-time inventory data online or otherwise available for online distribution.
The segment is now very real and we should continue to see it accelerate in the next 12-18 months. In the not-too-distant future it will be quite common to find out where a specific product can be purchased locally by looking online or consulting a smartphone app.
In this area, the improvements that Google has delivered for this Christmas season are huge, both in terms of product improvements and coverage:
We’ve partnered with more than 70 retail brands—including national retailers like Best Buy and Williams-Sonoma, as well as software manufacturers like JDA, Epicor and Oracle—to connect shoppers searching online with local stores that have the items they’re are looking for in-stock.
The search result pages now have an “in-stock nearby” refining option; and results in list view contain the number of local stores. On product pages, the results from online stores and local stores are now separated in two different tabs, the “nearby store” tab making a good usage of maps. Overall, a very simple and efficient user experience to compare prices online and offline. Impressive work.