For any retailer seeking low cost tools to boost the bottom line, the first place to look is Google. The search engine giant has a wide range of tools designed to help facilitate ecommerce. Some are established, others are experimental, but with an open minded approach to the technology company's strengths and weaknesses, there are some great benefits, including higher profits.
The first thing a retailer needs is customers, and Google specializes in driving traffic. High search rankings can help direct customers to your site, but Google offers more targeted ways to reach out and snag online consumers. Google AdWords is a longstanding program that lets a retailer place targeted text ads that appear beside Google search results. More recently, Google has extended AdWords to banners and rich media ads. The program allows for pay per click and cost per thousand impressions payment models. Google offers a stand alone application for Mac OS and Windows that allows users to manage an AdWords account. Another advertising option, designed exclusively for mobile devices such as phones and tablets, is AdMob Google, which offers targeted access to mobile users and is relatively simple to buy and measure.
Google Product Search (formerly called "Froogle") is another way to push products towards purchasers. This Google offer provides retailers with increased traffic and sales to qualified shoppers for free. Retailers can add products to the search engine by submitting data feeds by direct uploads, or for the tech savvy, through Google Product Search's API (application programming interface). However, Google displays search results from several merchants, all on the same page. This strategy tends to favor those offering the lowest prices and unusual goods. Google Merchant Center takes the Product Search one step further. Retailers can upload a wide range of data into the Merchant Center database, which can then, if Google thinks it is relevant, appear not only in the Product Search, but on Google Maps and in standard Internet search results.
For brick and mortar retailers, there is free service to link the physical location of a business to search results and on Google Maps. This feature, called Google Places, creates a listing or refines and improves an existing listing, and shoppers can add reviews to the listing. Free options let a business owner edit and add information, while premium listings allow the retailer to add photos, videos, parking information and coupons. There is also an option to turn on a notifications service.
The technology juggernaut continues to innovate and develop new ways to help retailers. The company just debuted a new service in August, called Google Catalogs, which allows a retailer to publish a print or digital catalog using a mobile app for tablet computers such as iPads. Another example of a new Google innovation is Google Offers. Echoing the hot retail trend and deal of the day programs like Groupon, Google Offers was first unveiled in Portland, OR on June 1. In July, the company debuted its service in New York City and San Francisco. The program is powered by Google Checkout and integrates with Google Wallet.
Merchants and webmasters alike need to evaluate the results of these traffic-building strategies and services, and Google has a free solution to do so. Google Analytics is a robust and rich tool that generates detailed traffic reports on a site wide basis, and with pinpoint precision per page. It integrates very closely with AdWords, so that merchants can track the results of their campaigns. Analytics also offers data on visits, page views, the time visitors spend, where they come from, what keywords they search with before arriving, and much more.
When customers are ready to place orders online, Google has a payment processing service as well; one that is similar to PayPal. Called Google Checkout, the system allows customers store their credit or debit card information securely, and then uses it to make payments. The service offers fraud protection to encourage customer confidence. Users can go online to track purchase status as well. According to the company, "a fast, convenient checkout process helps Google Checkout users convert 40 percent more than shoppers who have not used Checkout before." The system also boasts a payment guarantee that ensures payment to the etailer, even if there is a chargeback, on 98 percent of orders.
New this year, Google has developed a way to let mobile phone users make payments through their cell phones. The Google Wallet service is currently limited to the company's partnerships through Sprint and MasterCard, but there are plans to extend the service more widely. Wallet features a PIN for security, as well as data encrypted on a specialized chip in the phone. Using new "near field communication" technology, the customer just passes a phone near a reader to make a payment, so the retailer does not swipe a credit card at all.
The company also offers a vast variety of free applications that are useful to any business. For many purposes, Google Docs can serve as a replacement for a word processor, presentation creator, spreadsheet editor, and drawing program. Chrome is Google's free Web browser. Gmail is a free email system. Picasa is a photo organization and editing application. Blogger is a free blogging platform. Calendar offers a way to track schedules and events. Google has a webpage detailing how to use all these apps for businesses.
Retailers who want to stay up to date with Google's retail initiatives may want to bookmark three blogs run by their staff. The Google Retail Advertising Blog offers statistics on retail trade, ecommerce advice, and shopping trends. The Commerce Blog is more focused on shopping, retail, and payment technology, and the Merchant Blog is more oriented on how to get the most out of Google Product Search, and using Google Base.
Google prides itself on its creative developers who are looking for ways to innovate. Pushing shoppers online to help retail business fits squarely with the company's goal of pushing everyone online for just about everything. For ecommerce merchants, as for brick and mortar retailers who want to reach customers online, there's no reason not to take advantage of the industry leader's eagerness to network the entire world.
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