Today Google announced Google Commerce Search. Strangely enough, we very rarely compete with Google and we have been expecting them to do this for years so I was very interested to see the new product’s capabilities.

I see that the Google Store is provided as an example of their commerce search in action so I thought I would check it out. I found a few issues and thought I would share a few friendly tips with the folks at Google on how they can improve their offering.

Tip #1: Add Synonyms for commonly mistyped terms

My first search term was “tshirt“. You can see that they had no results because I typed this as one word. This is very common on apparel sites. If someone was looking at their site search analytics they would have noticed this and added a synonym so you would see results for “t-shirts” without having to click on the spelling suggestion. You can see an example of this if you search for tshirts on hottopic.

Google commerce search - tshirts
Google commerce search - tshirts

Tip # 2: Don’t show refinement options on no results

One of the new features that Google offers is the ability to filter results. This is a standard feature on ecommerce sites and it’s not surprising to see that Google is offering this.  I found it strange that there are filtering options on the page above when there are no results. For example you can see that under Shop by Category there is the option to filter by Eco (14). The (14) normally means that there are 14 results in the current result set which fall into the Eco category. Something strange is happening here – when you click on that option you still get no results.

Tip #3: Refinement numbers should be accurate

I also noticed that when you search for “google” the “Shop By Price” facet shows that there are 35 products in the $0-10 range. When you click on “Show All” you don’t see any more price ranges but that number changes to 34. When you click on the price range it returns 61 products. I’m sure there is an explanation for this but something seems broken with their filtering.

Tip #4: Put the most relevant results first

Let’s try another search. Here are the results for bag:

googe commerce search - baggoogle commerce search – bag

There are bags here – but the top result is for a bean bag. It looks like Google’s legendry relevance algorithms for web search don’t necessarily translate to relevant results for site search. Our approach here is to watch what people click on for each keyword and promote the results that are clicked on most. This would bring the most popular bags to the top of the results.

In their datasheet Google claims that if you use the Google Commerce Search it “removes the need to plan for variable capacity around increases in traffic”.  That probably needs to be adjusted a little because Google is only providing the search feature. Retailers are still hosting the rest of their site (product and navigation pages, shopping carts etc) and they will need to plan for variable capacity. That said, having your search hosted by someone else can help significantly with your capacity planning. We saw this with one of our early ecommerce customers, Etronics, in Christmas 2002.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Birkenstock USA is an early user, reporting speedier searches, more relevant result and better customer satisfaction. However I can’t see a search box anywhere on their site. Hmmmm….


My feeling is that Google may have announced this product a little prematurely. It doesn’t quite look ready for prime time. However, I’m sure they’ll improve it and in doing so will keep us on our toes. We will continue to innovate in site search.

We are confident that we have many features that Google doesn’t offer, however the one thing that I hear from our customers repeatedly that they love about us most is the level of service they receive from SLI. This is one of the factors that made Armando Roggio at Practical Ecommerce state “I believe that SLI’s search solution constitutes one of the best products I’ve ever reviewed” in his recent review of SLI’s site search. I’ll be interested to see whether Google can change their traditional, hands off approach to customer service with the Google Commerce Search.

Welcome to the ecommerce site search market Google. It is great to have Google validate what we have been saying for some time, which is that site search is important and it deserves focus from owners of high value sites, including online retailers.

11 thoughts to “Google Commerce Search – a Critique

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  • shaunr

    BTW: I see that the Berkinstock site is The search on here was not very impressive at all – no filters, sort or view options. The front page shows a pink shoe. A search for pink shoes returns no results. This is probably an issue with the feed that the retailer is giving to Google – but is hardly a great example of the new search features.

    The search is implemented using AJAX – and it does return the results quickly. However you can’t use the back button to view the previous search if you have done more than one search.

  • Yossi Hermush

    Interesting times!

    All the notes above are 100% true. However, I think retailer do not expect a “1.0” product to provide the same coverage as do products that are out there 5, 6, 8 or more years.

    A newcomer on the other hand has the advantage of bringing a new point of view and learning from other people’s mistakes. This is why we at Celebros are not quick to judge but rather look to learn.

  • shaunr

    Someone is paying attention – I see Google has fixed up most of the errors I pointed out above.

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  • Anthony Taylor


    I find it disappointing that Google has decided to price small-medium sized businesses out of the market for commerce search.

    If the format was adopted by all of the major online players and consequently by the consumer, then it would widen the rift between small and big business further.


  • Dave

    Last post is about price. I’m confused – is not free?

  • shaunr

    Hi Dave,

    From what I understand pricing starts at $50,000/year.

  • alex

    looks like gcs 3.0 is out now… it would be great if you revisited this post to see how much is still accurate? how about a feature comparison? how about posting comparative pricing to gcs? they appear to start at 25k/yr now.

    google may be the 8000 lb gorilla, but i am interested in seeing how competitive your service is, both on features and pricing.

    thanks in advance.

  • shaunr

    Hi Alex,

    I have done a critique of the search on that is powered by GCS 3.0. With just a quick look I found a list of things that were either broken, not ideal, or missing. I’m reluctant to share it publicly because I really don’t want to help my competitor out too much. I’ve asked an SLI rep to get in touch with you directly and let you know about pricing and the issues we found with GCS 3.0.

  • alex

    well shaun, i’ve gotten my client to sign up for your service… looking forward to the results!

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