In the range of thigs discussed at Google’s Search Evolution event in December Engineering VP Vic Gundotra demonstrated mobile shopping with real-time inventory information. Now Google has announced that product is live.
Google is working with a limited number of retailers for the time being but is inviting others to apply to become part of the program. There are data quality and location quality requirements that Google identifies and links to from its blog post.
Product Manager Paul Lee told me that this was only mobile for now but eventually would make its way onto the PC. He said that this offering made the most sense, in Google’s collective mind, for people on the go who had an immediate need for an item.
Here’s what the experience looks like on the Safari browser on the iPhone. It is also available for Palm’s WebOS and Android. It’s available from mobile Google.com results or via Google Shopping in mobile.
Several years ago Google operated Froogle Local, which offered the same proposition and received data from StepUp (now owned by Intuit) and ShopLocal. Google discontinued that service after roughly a year or so.
This time Google is working directly with retailers and not third parties and, according to Lee, has been helping them to clean up and prepare their data. The group of retailers currently involved are: Best Buy, Sears, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and West Elm stores.
In testing out the program Google apparently utilized “mystery shoppers” to test the system and go into stores to see if the search data were accurate. Paul Lee said, “We were very surprised and pleased and how well it worked.”
There are several other shopping sites that to varying degrees do a version of this today, including Milo.com, TheFind, PriceGrabber, NearbyNow (partners) and Krillion and its partners (including PriceGrabber). But Google’s visibility and clout will start to make real-time inventory data all but imperative for shopping search engines and related sites (at least in mobile) that want to remain competitive.
I asked Paul Lee about advertising angles here and he declined to comment. But I would image that where an advertiser is a also one of the partner retailers, we’ll start to see the blue dots appear in sponsored search results. But this may be some distance off.
This program will also yield very interesting, with a capital “V,” consumer data including some that should help further document the not-well-appreciated connection between Internet research and offline purchase behavior.