An introduction to innovation in consumer search optimization

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It may be obvious statement, but over the last 15 years the internet has completely transformed the retail industry. The once flourishing high-street is declining, as more and more consumers are swapping the shopping experience for the convenience and added choice that online retail offers. Mobile technology means more people are purchasing products via apps while on-the-go, rather than popping out on a Saturday morning to browse the isles and rails in-store.

The digital retail space has seen a huge number of disruptive innovations over the years, from artificial intelligence (AI) offering tailored recommendations to smart chatbots transforming and streamlining customer service and the new additions of drone deliveries and augmented reality – it’s an exciting time. Despite these leaps, most search technologies still used by modern retailers and brands are lagging behind. It’s these search engines that are the next element of the retail sphere set to have an innovation makeover.

Search engines today

When it comes to current search engines there are some big issues with accuracy. A Spoon Guru scan of the food search landscape revealed that the majority of leading supermarkets around the globe – including Walmart in America, Sainsbury’s in the UK and Carrefour in France – fail to return accurate search results for common dietary search terms, such as gluten free, low sugar or vegan. These needs seem simple, so imagine the difficulty of finding the right food if you have more complex requirements or multiple preferences.

Similarly, Google – the biggest search engine on the planet – came up short when looking for specific requirements. An analysis of the first page of results on a Google shopping search for vegan sausages found a staggering 19 of the 40 products are not vegan. In fact, two even contained pork.

 

So, what do you cook when you have a vegan, coeliac and nut allergy sufferer coming over for dinner? It isn’t the start of a bad joke as I’m sure you suspect, but a real-life scenario.

The grocery market (the industry in which Spoon Guru’s technology currently sits) is of course an area where there should be no margin for error, as for those with serious allergies and intolerances the consequences of a mistake can be fatal. However, no matter what the search enquiry – from homeware to sports equipment and clothing – these days consumers deserve, and ultimately should be able to get correct results that perfectly match their personal requirements.

The next generation of search technology

Despite a wealth of available products, people are still finding it challenging to find what they need owing to unstructured metadata and unconnected databases. Being innovation-led is crucial for retailers and brands who want to survive the digital boom, and responsive changes are required to match the shift in consumer expectations. Consumers want a personalized, seamless sand consistent experience. So how do you optimize search capabilities to match this?

A combination of AI, machine learning and human expertise, powers the next generation of search technology: Customer Search Optimisation (CSO). The secret to the CSO system is tagging and natural language processing. Natural language is the biggest problem facing machine learning, as it is presented with imperfect data owing to the ambiguities and variables within it.

Spoon Guru’s TAGS technology breaks down this language and translates it into labels that can then be assigned and organized. Over 24 hours, the system analyses 14 billion data tags, 2.5 million statements and over 16 million words, classifying over 180 preferences within the grocery retail space. CSO literally crunches billions of data points every day, opening up the market to match more products than ever before to specific consumer requirements.

Another important part of CSO is the human-in-the-loop system. Incorporating expertise – in Spoon Guru’s case, nutritional expertise – with the algorithms means that any inconsistencies, conflicts or erroneous classifications can be resolved. It also means that the latest scientific knowledge continues to be integrated into the technology’s DNA.

Tesco have already adopted the TAGS technology on their digital shopping platforms – via desktop and the app, helping shoppers find more products to match dietary needs, from the simple to the very complex.

CSO not only provides a better service for users and consumers, but by appearing in specific online searches, it will help boost brands’ profiles by providing further visibility, as well as becoming a core revenue driver.

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Future-gazing

Currently TAGS technology and CSO is transforming the grocery industry, as it is an area where specific requirements are becoming more of a necessity to the consumer – 64% of the world’s population are now on some kind of exclusion diet. With Tesco, one of the UK’s largest retailers, on board we can expect the technology to become a set standard across the industry.

Eventually this technology can be expanded and modified to work across different sectors, from entertainment, fashion, sports, hospitality, events, and pets. The possibilities of this transformative technology are pretty wide.

By leveraging smart technology (and smart people) we can cater for the modern multi-preference consumer, providing much more accuracy, relevance and choice.

Markus Stripf is Co-founder and CEO of Spoon Guru

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