People shop on Google more than a billion times a day. But until recently, the search results tended to come from big brands that paid big bucks to promote their listings. When I Googled tie-dyed T-shirts, the top results were from Gap, Zara, Lululemon, and Amazon. But that is soon about to change.
Yesterday, Google announced that it is transforming its online shopping experience by making it easier for people to discover smaller brands and local mom-and-pop stores. Google is partnering with Shopify, a company that makes it easy for people to start an online store, to create a simple process for 1.7 million merchants on the platform to feature their products on Google Search, Shopping, YouTube, and Images. This means it should be easier to find a cute tie-dye outfit from an indie store in my neighborhood.
These changes come at a time of major retail innovation. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Snap are investing in technologies that allow users to discover and instantly buy from a wide variety of new brands, including tiny startups that sell entirely through social media. Google is eager to compete with these platforms by making it easier to discover smaller brands, too. “E-commerce for the past 15 years has had a concentrating effect,” says Bill Ready, Google’s president of commerce and payments. “The vast majority of growth over the last decade have come from a handful of very large e-commerce players.”
Even though online shopping has improved over the past several years, it still has a few problems. Brands tend to target consumers with ads based on a few details about them, such as their shopping behavior or demographics. This means that we are often served ads from e-commerce sites we’ve recently visited—and chose not to buy anything from. We rarely see products or brands that are truly different from what we’ve previously searched or purchased. What we really need is a platform with a vast range of options, so we can stumble across new things that interest us, the way we would if we were strolling on a shopping street or browsing a department store. No shopping platform has quite achieved this level of discovery, but Google might be getting closer by bringing millions of new products into its search engine.