Google’s New Search Data Tool Will Change the Way Brands Reach Their Customers

While it may seem like Amazon owns the retail world, the vast majority of purchases still take place in traditional brick and mortar stores. In fact, in a recent TechCrunch article Google claims that while 87 percent of shoppers go online to research products, 92 percent of purchases still take place at physical stores. Now Google, with the help of a shiny new tool, wants to tie these two important consumer behaviors together.

Shopping Insights—a search data tool unveiled at The Wall Street Journal‘s technology conference, WSJDLive, in October, currently available as an online beta—shows what products consumers are searching for by location, and bridges the gap between virtual interest and physical purchasing behavior. Using search data, Shopping Insights covers over 5,000 products and more than 16,000 U.S. cities and towns, a roster that is being updated and expanded on a monthly basis.

While Google already has a Trends service that shares search data, Shopping Insights goes into greater geographical detail and distinguishes between desktop and mobile searches. In addition, since it operates using data based on products rather than keywords, Shopping Insights aggregates data from multiple search terms to give marketers a more cohesive picture. (Instead of listing “Beats by Dre” and “Beats by Dre headphones” separately, for example, Shopping Insights combines the searches to report overall interest.)

“We are really digesting the search data and giving them insight about what is happening at a product level in the consumer’s mind,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president of advertising and commerce, said at WSJDLive.

By using the tool to track which product searches are trending by city, retailers can strategically stock different locations in order to maximize sales. Halloween costumes, for instance, can be segmented by location. In Berkeley, California, Star Wars costumes were three times more popular than Minion costumes; in Madison, Wisconsin, the reverse was true.

This benefit applies to advertising spend as well. Knowing specifically what consumers are interested in can help retailers create more effective targeting campaigns from Google Shopping search ads to in-store advertising.

This level of detail and accessibility is the primary appeal of Shopping Insights. As Ramaswamy points out, retailers don’t run campaigns according to keywords, because they don’t encapsulate all the data related to a particular product or product type: “What geographical trends [can be drawn from] searches for an Xbox vs a PS4? How do they roll across the country, in some fascinating cases, over time? How do they slice by desktop versus mobile?”

In short, Shopping Insights presents data in a way that has immediate applications for retailers.

On the Insights page, Google features notable trends visualized as heat maps. There’s no way to search by more than one city at a time or export data—yet—so any comparisons are still manual at this point. And of course, interest is no guarantee that a consumer will actually complete a purchase. While Shopping Insights can make it easier for retailers to understand what consumers need, but everything from that point onwards is up to good old-fashioned sales tactics.

Regardless of its current limitations, though, Shopping Insights could be an invaluable tool for retailers looking to tie online behavior to real world purchasing habits.

Ramaswamy hopes that these “are the first of a series of tools that help retailers better understand consumer behavior, better figure out what it is that they need to merchandise and sometimes create, and also better figure out how they should be spending their advertising dollars.”

When it comes to leveraging their massive data collection machine to help marketers and retailers, Shopping Insights seems to indicate that Google is just getting started.

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