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Conversational Shopping: What is it?

In March 2016, Google announced it is developing a new piece of functionality for Search: Conversational Shopping. During his keynote speech at SMX West in Zurich, the company’s Director of Search Behshad Behzadi confirmed that “we are working on conversational shopping. We are definitely moving in that direction”. It’s exciting news, a natural progression from Voice Search and Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, but news that will no doubt create a number of questions, the most pressing one being, of course, ‘What exactly is Conversational Shopping’?

What is Conversational Shopping?

Conversational Shopping is the act of purchasing through your mobile device by issuing voice commands.

So, just as you can now search Google by talking into your phone, or have Siri undertake certain tasks by telling it to do something, Google is planning to allow you to buy products from eCommerce sites in the same manner. No need to type in a URL, no need to use your fingers and thumbs to navigate through product after product. You just say what you want, refine your Search, and Google’s Conversational Shopping functionality will (in theory at least) do all the hard work for you. It’s like Voice Search, but for shopping.

So, how does that work in practice? Well, let’s say you’ve got a major event coming up and want a new pair of shoes so you look neat and presentable. You’ve got enough on your plate preparing for the event, so want to take all the hassle out of buying your new shoes. So, you don’t go to a physical store, instead you fire up Google and ask it to “show me new shoes”. You need these shoes to be black, you need them to be leather, and you need them in size 10. So you refine your search by asking Google to provide you with results that fit those parameters too. Eventually, simply through voice requests, you land at a selection of potential options and a best eCommerce site option and are able to make the purchase.

When will Conversational Shopping arrive?

It’s still very early days for Conversational Shopping, and while Behzadi mentioned it at SMX West, he didn’t go into any great detail. As it’s still so new, that isn’t likely to change any time soon. Google will want to keep its plans under wraps for as long as possible, and even when it is ready to be rolled out, this will happen with limited Beta tests before it becomes widely available to the public at large. Patience is most definitely a virtue when it comes to the launch of Conversational Shopping.

However, if you want to get an early insight into the kind of functionality you can expect, just fire up Cortana, Siri, or Google Voice Search. Essentially, Conversational Shopping is just the next evolution in Conversational Search, so users can expect a similar approach. More significantly, Google will likely be using Conversational Search as the learning base for Conversational Shopping. In other words, all the successes and failures it has experienced with Conversational Search will feed into the Conversational Shopping product, whatever it ends up being. That means we’re likely to get a better product, and a product that will also feed back into Conversational Search.

What effects will Conversational Shopping have?

Conversational Shopping is another evolution of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm (which was introduced in 2013 to recognise context) and a new step in Google’s drive for utility. Fitting in with its Moment Marketing methodology, the company realises that useful functionality is valuedabove all else. Conversational Shopping is a perfect example of this. A huge number of purchase-based searches are done through mobiles, as consumers take to their devices to find information on the go or when it’s most convenient to them. Making that journey easier ensures that consumers are more likely to follow the journey through to its conclusion (the actual purchase) and businesses are more likely to get those all-important sales.

Should more shopping-based search queries be made through voice-based Search, the actual searches people are making could change. As voice recognition technology is still developing, there’s a perception among users that it struggles with longer phrases. In other words, people think that if they make their command or search too complicated, it won’t be recognised. eCommerce sites may find then, that long-tail searches decrease and short-tail searches increase. This could, of course, impact their ability to pull in traffic, and therefore shape their Search strategies going forwards.


Conversational Shopping is likely still some time off, but it could be a real game-changer for the eCommerce sector. By continuing to enhance the Hummingbird algorithm and making the searching process simpler for consumers, Google is opening up a rich area for eCommerce sites to take advantage of. The important thing to do now is keep up to speed, plan for a Conversational Shopping world, and take action when the time comes.

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