Alphabet Inc.’s Google unveiled several new retail cloud offerings on Wednesday in a new product called Google Cloud for Retail at its annual cloud event, Google Cloud Next, in San Francisco.
The new retail-specific services include store inventory management, analytics and visual search tools.
Ikea, No. 75 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000, is using the new Google Cloud for Retail Vision Product Search, which lets retailers integrate a visual search tool into their apps and sites, allowing shoppers to snap a picture or take a screenshot to search for similar items on a retail site or app.
“We’re working with Google Cloud to create a new mobile experience that enables customers, wherever they are, to take photos of home furnishing and household items and quickly find that product or similar in our online catalog,” says Susan Standiford, chief technology officer at Ikea Group.
Other updates include Recommendations AI, which draws on Google’s years of experience and expertise in honing personalized results for Google Search and YouTube, Pravin Pillai, global head of Industry Solutions, Retail at Google Cloud, tells Internet Retailer in an interview. Recommendations AI continuously learns and adapts to real-time user behaviors and dynamic environments, such as changes in assortment, pricing and special offers, Google says.
“We’ve tapped into learnings from other parts of the business like Google Search and YouTube,” Pillai says. “[Recommendations AI] looks at how users shop for specific products, a retailer’s inventory conditions and also things shoppers usually buy together,” Pillai says.
Another offering in Google Cloud for Retail is Real Time Inventory Management and Analytics—a tool stores can use to better track inventory across shelves, aisles and stockrooms. Google is working with vendor Trax Retail Watch, a store monitoring and intelligence platform that uses cameras in stores, to monitor and track inventory on shelves to see which SKUs are selling the best and more quickly and accurately track inventory, Pillai says. Stores can then use this knowledge by placing quick-selling items in easy-to-access places in stockrooms.
Google also announced on Wednesday at Google Cloud Next Contact Center AI—now in beta—that it will work with several existing call center technology programs, such as Genesys and Cisco, to help retailers build AI-powered virtual agents that use open-ended questions to quickly assess a customer’s history, sourcing the best answers and cutting wait times for customers and better preparing live agents with data to quickly help the shopper. The program also arms agents with suggestions on how to cross-sell and upsell the customer.
For retailers, cloud services, like those offered by Google, Amazon and Microsoft, offer nearly unlimited computing power for storing and processing data very quickly—power that would be far too expensive and time consuming to build out, buy and maintain in-house using their own servers. The public cloud also allows retailers to scale their capacity up and down and pay only for what they need when they need it.
Amazon, Microsoft, Google and others are battling it out in the hot cloud market. Forrester Research Inc. projects this market reached $44 billion in 2018, up from $21 billion two years earlier. AWS accounted for about half the market for public cloud platform services in 2018, or about $22 billion, Azure about a quarter at $11 billion and Google about 6%. Other big players include IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp.
Retailers including Ikea, Bed Bath and Beyond Inc. (No. 60), Kohl’s Corp. (No. 18), Target Corp. (No. 17), Home Depot Inc. (No. 7) and Ulta Beauty (No. 91) already use Google Cloud to run various aspects of their retail businesses from ecommerce hosting to data analytics.
Additionally, Canada-based ecommerce platform provider Shopify Inc. in 2018 began using Google Cloud to host the ecommerce sites it customizes and maintains for more than 800,000 online stores. Shopify had been mainly running its own data centers that it had to manage and scale internally.