Google tries to make shopping for back-to-school deals easier

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AI and AR lead the new ways of finding the perfect item

Shopping apps? Must be, what, hundreds? Probably a factoid that the search pros at Google figured they could simplify for consumers just by enhancing their very own online shopping search experience.

And they have. Searching for products using the Google Chrome browser now employs price insights tools as well as reviews, Google Lens, and augmented reality (AR) to give shoppers more refined search results all in one place.

Preview furniture in your space with AR. What better time than back-to-school to use technology to give shoppers a better idea of how a piece of furniture will look in a dorm room? It is hard to visualize how furniture will fit in your space or how it will look – or that’s what 84% of students surveyed said when Google fielded a recent shopping experience study.

The takeaway was that AR would be very or somewhat helpful to give consumers a bird’s eye view of how that furniture would play out in their dorm before buying. AR furniture and decor helps them do just that.

In Search, just tap product results with the AR icon to see what it would look like in your space.  

Read what other shoppers think. Moving from AR to artificial intelligence (AI), Google searches now allow shoppers to read reviews from both experts and shoppers just by clicking on a product. Also, AI can help a shopper see the top insights from those reviews, such as whether a table is sturdy or a linen set is warm and comfy like the manufacturer says it is. 

Find a specific item with Lens. Google has a lot of native apps – Photos, G-Mail, Docs, etc. – but one that probably goes unused by more people than others is Google Lens. Again, out of its study with college students, the company found that a major pain point was when buying a new item for their space, they can’t always find the specific thing they’re looking for.

Google Lens helps you find home products like furniture and decor from a screenshot or photo. When you use the multi-search feature in Lens, you can combine images and text to find exactly what you want.

Use price insights tools to find the best deal. Finding the best deal is another important consideration for nearly ¾ of college students. Google’s got two things here that could help: one is the price insights tool that shows the typical price range of an item to help you determine if you’re getting a good deal or not. The other is the price comparison tool designed to make it easy to compare prices from multiple retailers. 

Every shopping guru you’ll talk with will say that comparing prices is an absolute must before whipping out your credit card and Google’s now got that covered, too.  

On-click comparison

The company says that when a shopper finds an item they’re looking for on mobile, all it takes is clicking on the image to compare prices from other retailers. You might actually find it’s available somewhere other than the site you’re thinking about buying it from for an even better price.

Julie Black, director of Product, Consumer Shopping at Google, told ConsumerAffairs that the company encourages shoppers to use Google's user-friendly tools -- like price tracking, price insights and especially Search experience with generative AI (SGE), “So they can understand whether a discounted product is actually being offered at a good price, if other retailers are selling it for less, and if that product the right fit for their unique needs,” she said.

When ConsumerAffairs tested these new tools, we found that many of them are mobile device-centric and may​ not function as well on a desktop computer.

Back-to-School search trend data

In addition to what ConsumerAffairs already uncovered about August shopping and back-to-school deals, Google shared more from their data. The two shopping categories that its researchers say are getting the most action are decor and tech.

Decor: It stands to reason that every August, search terms like “bed risers”, “mini fridge”, “shower caddy,” and “mattress pad” spike on Google. And 2023 is no exception, either. Google says that if you’re looking for things like dorm room essentials, your best bets for search terms are “mini fridge,” “surge protectors,” “storage ottoman,” “closet organizer,” “vanity mirror,” “laptop stand,” and “small coffee maker.”

Tech & Accessories: “Shower shoes?” Yep, Google says that search term spikes year after year when July and August hit. So do “laptops.”

Backpacks are another big deal for shoppers so far in August, especially these four manufacturers: Jansport followed by North Face, Nike, and Lululemon. And water bottles? Over the past year, Owala was the most searched water bottle brand

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