Google Acquires Visual Shopping Engine

Aug 23, 2010
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

Google has acquired, a visual search engine for online
shopping. The deal is believed to be aimed at boosting Google’s shopping search
capabilities and services like its Product search engine. announced
the deal on its home page on Friday and a Google spokesperson confirmed it.

computer vision and machine learning technology, provides a visual
search engine focused on shoes, clothes, jewelry and décor. According
to a company description on the website, “We’ve developed technology that
lets us understand visually what terms like ‘red high-heeled pumps’ and ‘floral
patterned sleeveless dress’ mean and created algorithms to understand whether
those pumps complement or clash with that dress.”

David Murphy described as “a bit like online
shopping with a twist — instead of pushing through products and pages in
a manner similar to flipping through a print catalog, focuses on identifying
characteristics to drive user interest. Or, in other words, its ‘Visual
Shopping’ technology drills down to the core of what makes a product interesting
to a potential purchaser. Like a particular color? will serve up all
items, within a particular category, that best match the shade you’re looking
for. The same goes for patterns, shapes, and details.”

Mr. Murphy said
Google has dabbled in such technology. Last year, it rolled out its “Similar
Images” functionality for its normal Image search
but that technology has yet to be extended to its Product search.
makes money on affiliate links which are estimated to be as high as 10 percent.
It also owns, an online personal shopper for fashion products, and
virtual fashion studio

The deal, which had been rumored, comes
amid speculation that Google is further looking to maximize the potential of
its product search business, according to Fortune.
In a note in July, Merrill Lynch analyst Justin Post saw Google’s pending acquisition
of ITA flight tracking software as one of the first steps toward that goal.

“These changes are transforming Google into a more competitive, closer-to-the-transaction
e-commerce platform, with the potential benefit of: 1) bettering traffic share
gains and 2) improving conversion rates (up to 30 percent in some formats),
leading to higher CPCs (cost per clicks),” wrote Mr. Post.

Squeezing e-commerce
intermediaries out of referral fees could net Google as much as $1-2 billion
annually over the next three years, estimated Mr. Post. Google could start
ranking results by the commission it receives to further increase revenue from
product search.

“Product Search has evolved to become the number one comparison shipping
site,” wrote Mr. Post “While Product Search has the potential to
provide incremental monetization of $200 to $300 million per year, it is more
likely that Google will continue to use Product Search data feeds to help funnel
merchant data to higher value ad formats.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think Google’s purchase of
Do you think Google will be able to reshape online comparison shopping and
the product search market?

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5 Comments on "Google Acquires Visual Shopping Engine"

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Max Goldberg
10 years 8 months ago

Google has the desire and creativity to reshape comparison shopping. They have a corporate culture that empowers their employees to try new ideas. And they have the cash and stock to buy companies that are innovative. Consumers use the web extensively to research products and compare prices. They generally welcome any tools that assist in this effort. I look to Google to be at the forefront of innovation to help consumers find what they are looking for in the most efficient way possible.

David Dorf
10 years 8 months ago

There are two parts to this story. On the surface, Google has acquired some strong visual search technology to augment its product search. While Google has always been good with hard goods, its capabilities for soft goods searches are lacking, so will help in that area.

But look a little deeper and you’ll see that Google is slowly building its own e-commerce capabilities that rival traditional sites. In addition to product searches, it’s tracking in-store inventory, accepting payment, and collecting reviews. Those are the mechanics of selling online. Perhaps in the future, retailers will be left to focus on merchandising and let Google peddle the goods online.

Devangshu Dutta
Devangshu Dutta
10 years 8 months ago

Only partially tongue-in-cheek here. Mating and its virtual substitutes drove e-commerce in the earliest days, and it may be quicker to get a Google dating engine off the ground, where you can enter visual parameters and get matching search results. Perhaps the Google product developers already have that one covered.

Herb Sorensen
10 years 8 months ago
This is for sure a MAJOR development, as Google brings its information technology to bear on commercial activity. The question will be whether Google will become an important engine for the likes of Amazon (or Walmart) or will leap into the retail fray on their own account? The three basic components of retail are: the decision; the payment; the delivery of goods/services. The most important piece is the mental piece, the decision. And here is where Google MAY play a huge role. But Amazon is so far the premier selling organization at retail, “selling” referring to that mental process. However, Amazon largely (but not totally) depends on UPS, FedEx or others to deliver the goods. Walmart “competes” with Amazon/UPS-FedEx, but aspires to a larger role in that modality. In the end, the Convergence-of-Online-Mobile-&-Bricks&Mortar (COMB) will be driven by a powerful sales engine, that could be owned by Google and provided as a metered utility to any and all retailers. I’ve suggested that Intel might build a chip designed just for this purpose. We’ll see!
M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 8 months ago
Got to admit that I was a big user of for shopping and still go there out of habit only to be led to Works pretty much the same and, curiously enough, I am bombarded with product recommendations that mirror my searches when I next log onto my home page at How very, very curious indeed! (Alice In Wonderland.) I’m betting that I shop online more than 95% of us. For business and personal. My only complaint is having to wade through entries that do not fit the search criteria. And here’s another hitch: Retailers who insist that you pay through Google Payments (almost like that onerous PayPal insistence). Google Payments is seriously underpowered and nowhere near as sophisticated as Amazon’s pay service. I hate being forced to pay through Google to the point that I will search for another retailer even at a higher price to avoid them. But to the point: I kind of “like” Amazon’s suggestions of complementary products feature. But only so far. I’m not equipping an entire… Read more »

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