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Amazon Is Hitting Google Where It Hurts


Forget the tablet wars. Google is losing a very valuable search segment to Amazon.


For example, say you want to purchase a mundane item like a clothes brush. Tough to find in the real world these days, but there are a million of them online. If you enter "clothes brush" on the main Google Search page, the results are topped by an ad with an automated link to Amazon's selection, followed by a similar ad for a Google Shopping results page, followed by a number of direct links to Amazon product pages.

If you enter the same words on, all of the Amazon listings are omitted, though you get a variety of matches including fancy silver designs and a cool art deco brush with a bulldog handle. But if you add the word Amazon to your search to try to force it to include Amazon listings, you'll get some weird stuff, like a documentary about exploring through the thick brush of the Amazon river basin.

The omission gets weirder if you search for the category that Amazon overwhelmingly dominates -- that is, books. If you want a quick comparison of prices and stock at online booksellers other than Amazon, try a search for any author's titles.

There's another reason for the difference in search results on the main page and the Shopping page, and it's logical without being intuitive. Google is featuring its own Google Shopping search on its own front page, as if it were a sponsored display.

Google Shopping has one attractive feature that Amazon lacks: a button labeled "In Stock Nearby," which filters results for matching products in and around the user's zip code. That's a great feature for Google local advertisers, and Amazon is unlikely to add it.

But otherwise, Google apparently created Google Shopping as a simple sub-set of Google Search. That is, it uses the usual Google criteria but restricts the search to retailers. There is little attempt to help the consumer narrow the results to a reasonable selection.

For a good illustration, try searching for a "shirt" in Google Shopping and on The Google Shopping search result is probably an example of the limitations of a search algorithm. It takes human intervention at some point to consider that men, women, and children all wear shirts, and that T-shirts are different from dress shirts. Somebody at Amazon has already thought that one through.
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