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These Search Technologies Are Ramping Up Product Discovery for Consumers

When it comes to product discovery, consumers desire the two Cs—convenience and customization—and some companies are leveraging new search technologies to elevate their experiences.

At the “Three New Search Technologies: Get the Right Products at the Right Time,” panel during the NRF Big Show 2018, executives from Google, Nordstrom and Pinterest came together to share the search technologies, including voice, visual and AI, that are helping them upgrade product discovery, increase their bottom line and foster consumer engagement.

Moderated by Scott Silverman, principal of Scott Silverman Associates and former director of Shop.org, the panel informed industry members on how search technologies can help them combat retail’s uncertainty and stay in sync with consumers.

Google entices consumers with voice enabled shopping

Highly personalized voice shopping is Google’s latest search technology feat. As a leader in the technology sector, Google is innovating how consumers browse and buy products, while adding a personal touch on the purchasing journey.

“Conversations still matter in retail. This is where I think retail really accelerates from a voice perspective,” said Michael Haswell, Google Inc.’s director of global business development, retail and shopping. “What’s really great about voice is that the technology is adapting to humans as opposed to humans adapting the technology.”

Google is working with retailers, including Walmart, to offer personalized voice shopping to consumers nationwide.

In October, Walmart announced that more than 2 million Walmart items were available to order via Google’s Assistant. With this search technology, consumers can browse, shop and build a basket of previously purchased items bought on Google Express—a shopping service that offers fast delivery on everyday items—from Walmart. Consumers can link their Walmart accounts to Google Express and use the voice activation technology to reorder essential products and receive custom recommendations based on their previous purchases.

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This year, Walmart plans to expand voice shopping to other channels, including brick-and-mortar, for a more personalized and seamless shopping experience. By adding Google’s voice shopping technology, Walmart is able to prioritize the consumer in its business operations.

“Machines aren’t going to take over retail. Machines can help you do the heavy lifting, so you can engage your stylists and your creatives,” Haswell added. “That’s where Google is trying to play, where can we drive consistency in the voice landscape, so retailers can focus on their means of differentiation.”

Nordstrom taps AI & machine learning to elevate product discovery

Nordstrom’s search technology—a hybrid of AI and machine learning—is enabling consumers to instantly snap up products in stores and online.

“We use different types of machinery and algorithms to help consumers search online or on a mobile application. We make recommendations so consumers can discover new products quickly,” said John Xiao, Nordstrom’s senior director of product discovery and evaluation. “Machine learning is front and center of what we do.”

While machine learning enables consumers to speed up their digital searches, Nordstrom is also leveraging AI to make a consumer’s store shopping trip more personal. At Nordstrom, stylists are training AI-enabled machines to understand different fashion attributes and overtime, the AI-enabled machines are able to comprehend different fashion terms trough visual cues. While a stylist is assisting a consumer at a Nordstrom location, the AI-enabled machine can make recommendations to the stylist and consumer, which facilitates an open conversation between two parties.

“The technology is out there, I don’t think there is a shortage of different technologies. You need to understand your consumer to connect with your consume. Sales assistants, stylists and merchandisers work with the customers day in and day out and they know how the customer interacts with the product,” Xiao added. “Leverage your people, not the technology itself.”

[Read more about retail technology: Retailers Ramp Up In-Store Technology to Deliver on Digital Experiences]

Pinterest leverages visual discovery to get consumers to products faster

While brick-and-mortar and e-commerce dabble in search technologies, Pinterest is leading the way for another popular channel—mobile—with its visual discovery capabilities.

“Pinterest is a visual discovery platform that enables 200  million users worldwide to discover things visually and through that process, they are able to save things, click through things and take action on them,” said Amy Vener, Pinterest’s retail vertical strategy lead. “We believe that visual search is a new version of how consumers use their mobile device.”

When consumers use Pinterest on their mobile devices, they can easily browse for product images. With the help of computer vision technology, consumers can tap into an image they like and then use visual discovery technology to pin the image and find similar objects on the platform.

Pinterest also has two additional visual discovery features—a browse extension and photo feature Lens. The browser installation allows consumers to break down an image at large and pull up “pins”—also known as saved images—that relate to the image and shop for products. With Lens, consumers can take a photo within the Pinterest app of things they spot in real life or use a photo that already exists on their smartphone. This enables them to find similar images about recipes, looks and landscapes that they are interested in.

Vener discussed how platforms like Pinterest are essential to streamline the consumers’ purchasing journey on multiple channels, so consumers can receive custom recommendations in stores, online and through mobile devices.

“Now, we are getting closer to what really is a personalized experience that matches the consumer purchasing processes. What’s missing is the consistency of delivering that to the consumer at all touch points,” Vener added. “The closer we get to a holistic personalized experience; the more likely loyalty will come back to us as an industry.”