How are the Tech Titans shaping up when it comes to product search?

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Here at the Traverz office, we live and breathe product search technology. So we like to stay on top of what other companies are doing to update the online shopping experience.

Recently we’ve taken a look at how two of the biggest players in online shopping, Amazon and Google, are using AI to innovate product search. Over the past two decades these two companies have dominated online shopping and product search and are constantly innovating to try and stay ahead of the competition.  But just how well are their latest product search developments delivering for their customers?

Hey Alexa, let’s talk about AI assistants

Alexa has become something of a cultural phenomenon.  The ubiquitous voice activated smart assistant can be used for many things, from playing music, to checking your schedule and, not surprisingly as it’s owned by Amazon, also buying products online. So how does searching for a product with Alexa work? It’s actually incredibly simple – the user asks about a product and Alexa will offer a single recommendation that the user can either buy or ignore. That’s it! Such simplicity can be a beautiful thing when you know exactly what you want, you can go from “Hey Alexa, I want to buy an iPhone XS” to it arriving at your door that same day.

The problem arises when you are not quite sure of what you want or don’t say the right thing. One simple change in the above example can highlight this issue. Saying “Hey Alexa, I want to buy an iphone” leads to just one recommendation from Alexa. You are left in the not-so-safe hands of the recommendation algorithm. This is where Amazon may well offer the iphone that will make them the most money rather than the one that best fits your needs.

Ok Google, can you do any better?

Like Alexa, Google’s Assistant can be voice controlled, but also works with shopping apps where you can view and touch the screen. This allows the AI to offer a more complex and detailed product search experience. The Google Assistant can control various “assistant enabled” apps to provide shopping assistance, where you get to specify things like price, size etc. Google will then select 3-4 products, ready to purchase. While it offers you a little more control and choice than Alexa, you are still just forced into their recommendation list via a few basic filters. It feels more like a step back in time than a look to the future.

Worse yet, the process is cumbersome and buggy. You have to guess which of your apps is “Assistant Enabled” and then go through a laborious process that often mishears, misunderstands or even just gives up completely, as can be seen in this painful video below:

What else do they have up their smart sleeves?

What surprises us here at Traverz is that surprisingly little product search innovation seems to be coming through from the tech giants. Both Google and Amazon still remain heavily reliant on the search and filter model that has been the standard for decades – with no attempts to completely re-imagine that search experience. Amazon does seem to be making some gentle steps by building experimental tools, and a couple of these are quite interesting.

Their Style Snap fashion tool uses AI image recognition to analyse an image you upload. It first tries to determine which parts of the image contains clothing products (dress, hat, shoes etc); then once you select which of those products interest you, it will try to find an exact match, along with various items that are similar. It does both of these tasks rather impressively, almost always providing quality matches to the uploaded image. It is however a little limited in its usage. Once you are provided with a list, you can only really set size and price to further influence the search. It is also locked to the Amazon store, so you can only find products that Amazon stocks. For areas like fashion, where searches are often visually driven, it really does feel both futuristic and useful though.

Another interesting tool is their Your Journey preference tool, which appears to be in testing now and is only accessible in the lighting section. Once you are on a product page, you get a large recommendation panel that encourages you to like or dislike a range of additional products based on how they look. After each click, the AI updates those products in line with your desired style. After 3 or 4 clicks, you really do feel the results are in the style you prefer and you can then save that “journey” and narrow it down further with filters. Again, you are trapped in the Amazon store and are really just getting image based recommendations. But the feeling of having some control over more abstract ideas like look and style feels like a big step forward.

Are we seeing the future of shopping from the big guys?

Not quite yet. The AI assistants are very good at simple actions like asking about the weather, but unless you know exactly what you want to buy, the process of product search is currently worse with the Amazon and Google AI assistants than when using their standard website. However we are seeing Amazon innovating with AI in little pockets of their site and what they are achieving does feel both smart and helpful, albeit in a basic, locked system.

Here at Traverz, we are humanising product search by providing the user with a smart, AI driven agent that takes a lot of the work out of looking for products, as well as simple yet powerful tools to control their product lists based on their preferences and tastes. The Traverz shopping experience can work across multiple marketplaces, understanding your style and providing real help to find the best products for you.

To find out how you can build an e-commerce platform that delivers better insights and greater brand loyalty from customers, get in touch with us.

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