Testing Vertex AI Search with Google Merchant Center

See how to use your existing Shopify catalog data from Google Merchant Center to test the power of Google Cloud’s Vertex AI Search for Retail on your data.

Introduction

If your product catalog is already in Google Merchant Center, it’s remarkably easy to see the power of Google Cloud’s Vertex AI search for retail solutions on your data. You can spend some time inside of the Google Cloud Console testing your most common search terms and seeing how quickly results can be returned by Google’s Retail API. This is a great first step to test the power of Google’s search algorithms on your product catalog, but we’d like to show you how to take a Vertex AI integration to the next level.

Google has outlined these required steps to complete an end-to-end implementation, but this article explains the simple steps you can follow to test the solution, along with the functionality gaps and the value of Nimstrata’s Search & Discovery Shopify app.

Google Merchant Center

Google Merchant Center is a free tool offered by Google that helps online retailers showcase their products across various Google platforms like Google Search, Shopping, Maps, and YouTube. It acts as a central hub where retailers can upload and manage product information, including details such as titles, descriptions, images, and prices.

Many Shopify retailers already use one or more apps to sync their product feed with Google Merchant Center. This connectivity lays the foundation for organic and paid advertising campaigns, along with paid ads in Google Shopping, and may even drive a meaningful portion of online sales.

Google Cloud’s Vertex AI Search for Retail

Google Cloud Vertex AI Search for Retail (previously known as Discovery AI or the Retail API) is a suite of tools designed to improve product discovery on retail websites and apps. It leverages machine learning to provide three powerful solutions:

  • Personalized Search: Vertex AI goes beyond simple keyword matching and uses machine learning to understand user intent and past behavior. This results in more relevant search results for each individual customer.

  • AI-Powered Merchandising: Vertex AI Search for Retail can return “browse” results on a storefront, otherwise referred to as product listing pages, categories, or Shopify collections.

  • Product Recommendations: Vertex AI Recommendations can display products to customers based on their browsing history, past purchases, and other factors. This can help encourage them to explore new items and increase their order value.

Overall, Vertex AI Search for Retail aims to:

  • Improve conversion and order value: By recommending relevant products, you can increase the chances of customers finding what they're looking for and spending more.

  • Reduce search abandonment: By providing more relevant results (and eliminating “no results found” pages) users can find products, you can keep shoppers engaged and on your site.

  • Enhance the shopping experience: Personalized recommendations at every step of a shopping journey create a more intuitive and user-friendly shopping experience.

Simply put, Vertex AI Search for Retail allows merchants to leverage the power of Google’s own search technology on their own ecommerce platforms.

Shopify and Google Merchant Center

Several popular apps can sync Shopify with Google Merchant Center, each with its own strengths and pricing models. Here are some of the most popular options:

  • Simprosys Google Shopping Feed: This app offers a comprehensive solution for optimizing your product data for Google Shopping and other channels. It boasts features like automatic feed updates, AI-powered data optimization, and support for various advertising platforms.

  • Google Shopping Feed Advanced (ShoppingFeeder): This app is known for its user-friendly interface and robust features. It allows for advanced feed customization, automatic Merchant Center and Google Ads sync, and support for multiple languages and complex product catalogs.

  • DataFeedWatch by Cart.com: This app provides a powerful solution for managing large product feeds and ensuring compliance with Google Merchant Center requirements. It offers features like feed rule automation, error diagnostics, and performance tracking.

  • Free Options: The Shopify App Store also offers several free apps for basic Google Merchant Center integration. These might be suitable for smaller stores with simpler product catalogs. However, they may lack advanced features like feed optimization and automation.

Importing Merchant Center Data to Vertex AI

Once your data is in Google Merchant Center, you can import it to Google Cloud’s Retail API. Google Cloud’s documentation includes basic steps under the “Sync your Merchant Center account” header. This integration option is great if you don’t update your catalog frequently, but most merchants prefer solutions that can handle real-time inventory.

After your data has been loaded into Search for Retail, you can navigate to the Evaluate tab to test the results:

See test results from Vertex AI Search for Retail by importing your Shopify product catalog from Google Merchant Center.

Google Merchant Center provides a solid foundation to test Google Cloud’s Vertex AI Search algorithms on your retail catalog, however, there are additional pieces required to deliver results on your Shopify storefront.

The Missing Functionality

Fully implementing Vertex AI Search for Retail requires several steps that are not part of Google Merchant Center syncing. 

User Events

User events are used to personalize search results, generate product recommendations, and improve search relevancy over time. Event types include searches, add to cart events, and conversions. These user events feed the machine learning algorithms to continuously improve your product catalog’s discovery experience. You can learn more about User Events in the documentation.

Delivering Results on Your Shopify Theme

Several components are required to successfully deliver search results, AI-powered merchandising, and recommendations on a Shopify theme. 

  • Retrieving Results: The documentation provides examples of retrieving search results and recommendations. You may need to build and host applications to call the API, handle pagination, and return results in a visually appealing manner on your storefront.

  • Product Filtering: The best search solutions allow end users to filter results based on a variety of factors such as color, size, or availability. These catalog attributes are typically not included with Google Merchant Center syncs and individual components need to be created to call the Retail API with filters.

  • Authentication: Authenticating to Google Cloud’s Retail API requires a server-side application with a Service Account.

Sample search results on a Shopify Storefront

Additional Data

  • Shopify Custom Metafields: Many Shopify catalogs include custom metafields unique to their products. These metafields are often used to enhance the relevancy of the Vertex AI search algorithms or used when filtering products on a product listing page.

  • Product Bundles and Collections: The collection product type isn't supported when linking Google Merchant Center to the Retail API.

  • Color Family Mapping: Color is a highly weighted field in the Retail API, and Google Cloud uses a combination of user-defined color values and 13 color families to deliver results correctly.

Nimstrata Search & Discovery

When we launched Nimstrata, our goal was to make it easier for retailers to adopt Google Cloud’s Retail API solutions. We’ve built a Shopify app that can connect your store directly to Google Cloud’s Vertex AI solutions. We handle everything. You don’t need to have your data in Google Merchant Center first, and we cover all of the missing components outlined above, including real-time inventory and pricing syncing, user event ingestion.

When it comes to serving results on your theme, we’ve crafted purpose-built App Blocks that simply require your Google Cloud Project ID and Serving Configuration ID to deliver search results and recommendations almost instantaneously on your Shopify store. We’ve included everything required to accurately deliver personalized search results, attribution tokens, and track revenue.

Our transparent pricing is simple and grows in two dimensions: As the number of SKUs in your catalog grows, you’ll pay for every 10,000 SKUs. As your traffic volume grows, we simply charge our flat-rate serving fees, just like Google Cloud.

We also have a dedicated partnership with Intelligems so that you can A/B test the power of these algorithms on your Shopify store and ensure the solution drives a measurable uplift for your business.

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