At the World Retail Congress last week, Google’s Vice President of Product Management and Shopping Products Sameer Samat spoke about “the future of retail as Google knows it,” and shared everything that they have in the works to change the way we shop. Today we’re giving you a look at their plans, and how their retail vision feeds into young consumers’ hunger for mobile-first, instant-gratification, seamless experiences.
Google currently has over 1 billion products in their shopping index, and they’re able to find almost anything that a consumer might want to buy—including seemingly obscure items like “selfie stick” and “Luis Suarez bite shirt”— through their shopping search. Young consumers of course see this instant and customized window-shopping as the status quo. The next generation will never know a time when their retail desires were limited to catalogues and physical stores. Everything they could imagine can be theirs (with the proper funds) with a vague search term and a few clicks, wherever they are—and therein lies what Google calls The Big Shift: Consumer expectation is going way up.
The cause of this expectation change lies in the pocket of nearly every Millennial. Thanks to smartphones, one device has replaced multiple technologies, which has led to the rise of what Google calls “continuous computing.” With a computer technically in our hands at all the times, the virtual world lives with us, and so consumers’ (especially young consumers, as we saw yesterday in our Millennials Sound Off post) expectation of experience in the physical world has gone up. They’re blending their online and offline experiences continuously, and, as Samat declared, “nothing is compartmentalized anymore.”
This significant shift has Google—and should have all retailers—rethinking the consumer experience. Their search is becoming even more customized, giving more sophisticated answers to more specific questions. But this continuous computing is also seriously affecting the future of retail. Instant access to information has made Millennials and teens a tougher group of customers. They can use their down time to do their product homework in advance, and instead of browsing three stores for one product instead make a single dedicated visit to one store as educated shoppers. This behavior is the likely reason behind the 55% decline in in-store foot traffic since 2010. But retailers should have heart: according to Google, sales have actually gone up 13% per visit in that same time. It’s not that they aren’t shopping, it’s that they’re shopping differently. So what is Google’s planned role in this swiftly changing landscape? The search giant has several projects that could make them the connector between consumers and the goods and retailers they want. Here are two Google developments that could shift the future of shopping, and continue to escalate young consumers’ expectations of the ideal retail experience:
Voice Search (Or, Your Personal Local Shopping Assistant)
Talking to your phone is quickly going beyond asking Siri silly questions. Google describes the future of their voice search as a “personal shopping assistant in the phone” that takes a “mobile-first approach, not ‘mobile and’ approach.” If, for example, a user wants to find a plasma TV, they can simply say to their phones: “Ok Google, I need a plasma TV.” The search will then surface not just the online options for purchasing, but expose the local retailers carrying the product, and pinpoint on the map how far they need to go to buy that TV right now. Google is working with local retailers to expose what they say is a secret weapon: you have what the consumer wants, just miles away from where they are now. According to Google, only 32% of retailers are exposing local inventory on their site, but 51% of consumers visited a store in person after searching Google for products. They see this as a huge missed opportunity for stores, who should be using a multi-channel approach to reach these continuously computing consumers. We’ve already seen signs that for Millennials the next phase of the on-demand economy will involve personal assistants in their phones, so Google’s vision for voice search as a local product connector fits right in with young consumers’ next expectations.
Google Shopping Express
This program, currently active in San Jose, San Francisco, West Los Angeles, Manhattan, and Northern California, was born out of Google’s “intuition that sometimes it is inconvenient for them to come to the store.” Google Shopping Express is a platform that makes visiting shops unnecessary by allowing same day delivery of items in stock in local stores. Launched a year ago, Shopping Express counts Walgreens, Costco, Target, and many more as partners and emphasized that the retailers are the focus, with Google as the connector between the consumers and the brands they need. When browsing for products, users can explore 3D imagers, add loyalty cards, and create multi-merchandise carts—i.e. carts that contain items from various stores). Google reports that 94% of users buy the same items or more from merchants after joining, and currently a full 40% of orders are on mobile. In our most recent quarterly trend report, we delved into the shortening patience of Millennials (75% agree “I get very frustrated by things that waste my time) and their increasing desire to outsource anything they deem a waste of effort. Google Shopping Express joins the growing ranks of services that are catering to this mindset, providing solutions to everyday annoyances that save young consumers effort, thought, and most importantly, time.