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Shoppable Ads on Google Images Target the Convoluted Path to Purchase

Google is strengthening its retail play as it plans to roll out shoppable ads when people view image search results on its search engine.

It’s the latest move this week that reflects a shift in how people want to discover and purchase product. Pinterest debuted fresh features that give brands and retailers new tools to position their products in front of consumers already interested in similar styles, seizing upon a growing interest in search based not on text and typing, but newer media like visual and voice.

The consumer path to purchase is no longer the straightforward journey it once was. Acknowledging this new reality, Google will start putting shopping tags in ads so people can see product details like brand and price at the moment of interest.

“With so many choices and awareness, awareness is about being there when the consumer is looking for you,” Adweek reported Daniel Alegre, president of retail shopping and payments at Google, as stating during a keynote at Shoptalk where the news was first announced.

Google said it’s trialing the shopping ads with a small group of retailers under the search terms “home office ideas,” “shower tile designs” and “abstract art.”

Visual search accounts for a tiny fraction of total search volume, according to eMarketer. Image-based searches might top out around 1 billion monthly versus text searches that run into the hundreds of billions. However, as platforms expand their visual search options, people take notice—and action. Visual search on Pinterest reached 600 million in February 2018 from 250 million in the prior-year period. What’s more, 62.9 percent of millennials said they’d like to use visual search to facilitate shopping online, according to data from ViSenze.

Plus, there’s mounting evidence that consumers put greater faith in pictures than words, according to research from the Intent Lab. Ashlee Humphreys, a Medill associate professor and the Intent Lab’s principal researcher, explained, “We’re learning that visual cues provide a lot of quickly accessible information, and consumers find pictures easier to trust.”

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Jason Roussos, senior vice president strategy for digital marketing performance agency Adlucent, sees Google’s foray into shopping-enhanced images as “the unification of content and commerce.”

“As more brands and retailers grasp the value of creative strategy, as opposed to traditional digital advertising alone, there’s an opportunity for those with strong content to monetize these new marketing models,” Roussos explained. “In addition to similar setups in Pinterest and Instagram, Facebook and Amazon continue to roll out new options for video advertisements. Brands and retailers with strong internal creative teams or agency partners that create a more compelling user experience for the ‘always-on’ consumers of today will be able to take advantage of these advertising platform innovations moving forward.”