Google makes push to turn product searches into cash

Google's New York offices. The internet search company hopes that a new program will help retailers capture more purchases on desktop, cell phones and smart home devices with voice search - the next frontier if e-commerce. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2018
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Google makes push to turn product searches into cash

NEW YORK: Google routinely fields product queries from millions of shoppers. Now it wants to take a cut of their purchases, too.
The US technology company is teaming up with retailers including Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Costco Wholesale Corp. and Ulta Beauty.
Under a new program, retailers can list their products on Google Search, as well as on the Google Express shopping service, and Google Assistant on mobile phones and voice devices.
In exchange for Google listings and linking to retailer loyalty programs, the retailers pay Google a piece of each purchase, which is different from payments that retailers make to place ads on Google platforms.
Google’s pitch to retailers is a better chance to influence shoppers’ purchasing decisions, a move that is likely to help them compete with rival Amazon.
Google hopes the program helps retailers capture more purchases on desktop, cell phones and smart home devices with voice search – the next frontier for e-commerce.
The previously unreported initiative sprang from Google’s observation that tens of millions of consumers were sending image searches of products, asking “Where can I buy this?” “Where can I find it?” “How can I buy it?” “How do I transact?” Daniel Alegre, Google’s president for retail and shopping, told Reuters exclusively.
Over the past two years, mobile searches asking where to buy products soared by 85 percent, Alegre said. But the current default choice for many consumers is a Google search that ends with an Amazon purchase, analysts said. The new Google program, Shopping Actions, will be available in the US to retailers of all sizes and could help retail chains keep those customers.
“We have taken a fundamentally different approach from the likes of Amazon because we see ourselves as an enabler of retail,” Alegre said. “We see ourselves as part of a solution for retailers to be able to drive better transactions ... and get closer to the consumer.”
For consumers faced with a surfeit of choices, the idea is to make online buying easier by giving them a single shopping cart and instant checkout — a core feature of Amazon’s retail dominance.
Retail chains can also offer products through the Google Home voice shopping device, holding on to those who may be headed to Amazon for better deals and giving them personalized recommendations based on previous purchase history.
For example, a shopper looking for sneakers on Google on his phone can see a retailer’s listing and add that to his Google Express cart. Later, the customer can stand in the kitchen, and use the Google Home voice device to add paper towels to the same cart and buy everything at once.
Retail partners saw the average size of a customer’s shopping basket increase by 30 percent, Alegre said, pointing to early results from the Shopping Actions program.
Ulta Beauty’s average order value has jumped 35 percent since partnering with Google, CEO Mary Dillon said. Ulta sells makeup and skin care products from brands such as MAC, Estee Lauder and Clinique.
Over the past six months, Target said the number of items in shoppers’ Google Express baskets have increased by nearly 20 percent, on average, as a result of its tie-up with the Internet company.
The retailers are also eager to get in on the rapidly growing voice shopping market dominated by Amazon’s popular Echo home device, analysts and consultants said.
Both Walmart and Target last year struck deals to appear in search results via Google Home.
Smart voice devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home will be installed in 55 percent of US households by 2022, according to Juniper Research. Amazon’s Alexa platform could generate $10 billion in revenues by 2020, a separate report from RBC Capital Markets estimated.
“Brands are looking at Google as the enemy of the enemy and that makes Google their friend,” said Guru Hariharan, CEO of retail technology firm Boomerang Commerce, referring to the competition between Amazon and chains like Walmart and Target.
Target shoppers “love the ease and convenience of making their Target run without lifting a finger by using a voice interface,” Chief Information and Digital Officer Mike McNamara said.
“This is just the beginning for Target and Google,” he added.
Target shoppers will soon be able to link their online account and loyalty card with their Google accounts and get 5 percent off on purchases and free shipping, McNamara said.


The role of social media in solving — and committing — crimes

Many things are forbidden when using social media in Saudi Arabia, including stirring up tensions and causing division among citizens, encouraging criminality, or publishing anything might harm public affairs in the country. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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The role of social media in solving — and committing — crimes

  • The battle against cybercrime in the Kingdom is likely to escalate as technology becomes more sophisticated, and there are already heavy penalties for crimes such hacking, identity theft, hate speech and pornography
  • The obvious first step is to contact the police and hand over the devices containing the digital evidence. Specialist officers will copy the data, analyze it and evaluate it

JEDDAH: Many Saudi citizens are increasingly using social media as an alternative source of news, rather than local media organizations, which are subject to strict censorship and controls regarding content.
There is no doubt that as the use of social networks has increased, so too has the number of people subjected to abuse, threats, discrimination and defamation online. In some cases people, groups or organizations are deliberately and systematically targeted to achieve a specific goal.
Dealing with such abuse on social media is an organizational matter that often requires some form of censorship. There is a fine line between the right of an individual to create and publish a video on social media in which they can express their personal opinions and, for example, the right to publish recorded footage of a crime taking place.
Many questions were raised, for example, by a recent incident involving the kidnapping of a Saudi teenage girl in Riyadh, footage of which was posted on an Instagram live stream. The video quickly went viral, though it was soon deleted.
The posting of such footage of criminal acts is considered a crime and exploitation in the Kingdom. Many other things are forbidden when using social media in Saudi Arabia, including stirring up tensions and causing division among citizens, encouraging criminality, or publishing anything might harm public affairs in the country.
If any person, group or organization feels that they have been subjected to online abuse they can report it to the authorities who will examine the digital evidence, including any video footage.
Abdulrazzak Murjan, an expert in digital evidence and a member of the American Academy of Forensic Medicine, said that rulings by the Supreme Court set out the procedures for dealing with such allegations, and how digital evidence can be used.
“Videos are one type of digital evidence and can be taken as a pretext, when they are free of editing, to prove the charge in the...courts,” he said.
The laws governing information crimes, which involve use of electronic devices to commit a crime, prohibit “producing material that violates public order, religious values, public morals or the inviolability of private life, preparing it, sending it or storing it through a network or a computer.”
While electronic devices and social media can legitimately be used as sources of digital evidence to prove criminal activity, the misuse of such content by publishing it online is itself considered a cybercrime. It is, therefore important to know what to do should you come into possession of such sensitive material.
The obvious first step is to contact the police and hand over the devices containing the digital evidence. Specialist officers will copy the data, analyze it and evaluate it. If appropriate, the evidence will be submitted to the attorney general for further assessment, and then to the court during a trial.
While the misuse of social media in the ways described above can be a criminal act, cybercrime is a more general description for any crime committed using a computer and network, such as hacking, blackmail and cyberbullying. The victims can range from individuals and organizations all the way up to governments. In Saudi Arabia many measures are being taken and constant work is being done to protect people from such attacks.
“In terms of the nature of crimes committed through social media, they fall under the laws related to cybercrimes,” said Budur Al-Sharif, a lawyer. “They are associated with the criminal law, under which fall the cybercrime laws issued by the Communications and Information Technology Commission.
“Saudi criminal law includes many regulations related to addressing cybercrimes in terms of the type of crime, its meticulous peculiarity, its methods and the extent of the punishment imposed according to that law. The punishment for the perpetrators of these crimes can be as high as 10 years in jail or a fine of SR5 million ($1.3 million).”
Lawyer Dimah Al-Sharif called for action to make social media safer for everyone, and to raise awareness of other people’s rights and the consequences of misuse.
“I believe that establishing official and verified accounts controlled by the Ministry of Interior would help to make reports more credible and trustworthy, and reduce false reports. Moreover, awareness is needed among teenagers and minors to make it easier for them to differentiate between their freedoms and other people’s privacy.”
The battle against cybercrime in the Kingdom is likely to escalate as technology becomes more sophisticated, and there are already heavy penalties for crimes such hacking, identity theft, hate speech and pornography.
“We are facing increased hate speech and discrimination and measures have been taken to curb it,” said Muna Abu Sulaiman, a social media personality and expert. “However, enforcement lags behind and involves too many different ministries and authorities. My suggestion is that we develop a law enforcement unit that deals only with cybercrimes relating to hate speech.
“When crimes go beyond social media into the real world, and social media is used only to document them, law enforcement is fast to respond. We have seen several cases where within hours crimes were solved and criminals apprehended.”