Google’s Holy Grail of Shopping?

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Sometimes patent filings from the search engines don’t describe some hidden algorithm or behind-the scenes-technology, but instead detail a whole new way of doing business. Here’s one such document published yesterday by Google that looks at shopping for products and services in a completely different manner.

Keep in mind that previously, Google’s product and shopping services have included Froogle, Google Catalogs, and Google Local. If something like what is described here is developed, it could change around the way many people shop.

This patent filing expands upon those offerings in a dramatic manner, from assistance inside of stores, restaurants, resorts, travel terminals and others, through driving and walking directions that tell you about sales and promotions at the end point of the trip, and along the way. It allows stores to dynamically offer promotions across a chain, or manually enter specials at specific locations.

Generating and/or serving dynamic promotional offers such as coupons and advertisements
Inventors: Ashutosh Garg and Allen Romero
US Patent Application 20060143080
Published June 29, 2006
Filed December 29, 2004


A promotional offer may be generated by (i) accepting information concerning at least one of (A) a search query entered, at a client device, by a user, (B) an item or establishment which is the subject of a search result selected by a user using a client device, (C) one or more items or establishments which are elements of a shopping session summary provided to a user via a client device, (ii) determining a promotional offer to serve using at least the accepted search query information, and (iii) determining terms of the promotional offer using at least one of (A) a location of the client device, (B) a distance from the client device to an establishment associated with the promotional offer, and (C) a distance from the client device to an establishment competing with the establishment associated with the promotional offer, (D) an inventory, at an establishment associated with the promotional offer, of the goods which the promotional offer concerns, (E) a capacity, at an establishment associated with the promotional offer, to provide the services which the promotional offer concerns, (F) a level of excess capacity, at an establishment associated with the promotional offer, to provide the services which the promotional offer concerns, (G) a perishability of goods which the promotional offer concerns, and (H) a remaining shelf-life of goods which the promotional offer concerns.

Kinds of Information Included in the Databases

At the heart of these processes is the collection of a lot of information from stores that may participate. The first major section of this document looks a product database and a service database, and tells us a little about how the system will work by telling us what types of information may be collected in those databases.

A user can search for information in a service database or a product database for a given location, for example:

  • A store,
  • A mall,
  • A resort,
  • An island,
  • A transportation terminal,
  • A shopping district, and;
  • Others.

The user may select products or services or both that they might be interested in purchasing, or the user may select establishments that they would like to visit.

A person could even plan a shopping trip using one of the processes described, to come up with an optimial shopping route, with directions or a map to help them.

Dynamic promotional offers could be generated using information such as:

  • User selections of products, services, and/or establishments,
  • Search query information,
  • Search result information,
  • Session information,
  • User information,
  • Relationships of products or services (e.g., established by hand mapping, collaborative filtering, conceptual clustering, etc.)

A service database might include such things as:

  • Establishment name,
  • Establishment location,
  • Establishment hours,
  • Establishment rating or reviews,
  • Service categories,
  • Wait times for services,
  • Links to further information, and;
  • Others.


…in the context of dining services, an entry in a service database may include a cuisine category, a restaurant name, particular items on the menu, information about such items (e.g., ingredients, how prepared, price), a location, a rating and/or review, typical wait times to be seated or to pickup a take-out order, etc. Such information may be augmented with more current information, such as daily specials, current wait times to be seated or to pick up an order, current promotional offers, etc.

A product database may include a number of entries of things such as:

  • Name of an establishment(s) that carries the product,
  • Establishment location(s),
  • Establishment(s) hours,
  • Establishment(s) ratings,
  • Product ratings,
  • Product costs,
  • Catalog entries or descriptions, and;
  • Others.

This information may also included:

  • Daily specials,
  • Current available inventory (e.g., per item, per size, per color or finish, etc.),
  • Promotional offers,
  • Others.

Places to Shop, or “Exemplary System Architecture”

Ok, I’ll confess that I got a kick out of seeing what this patent considers “Exemplary System Architecture,” because things like a shopping mall aren’t often included in a search related patent as part of the system architecture.

Examples of places that might use this system:

  • Stores
  • Indoor malls
  • Outdoor malls
  • Strip malls
  • train stations,
  • bus terminals,
  • airports,
  • boat ports
  • islands,
  • resort communities,
  • outlet centers,
  • shopping districts,
  • marketplaces, and;
  • Others.

These places could set up ways to allow people to use this shopping system such as as kiosks, fixed terminals, wireless devices, or wireless access points.

Examples from the patent application of places and uses:

…a chain store such as Tower Records may store and manage information about various compact disks that its stores offer centrally, while storing and managing information about inventory, and specials at a particular store locally.

…a chain restaurant such as PF Chang’s China Bistro may store and manage information about its main menu items centrally, while storing and managing information about wait times and seafood specials locally.

…a third party may store certain product or service information (e.g., product specification, reviews, etc.) centrally, while a particular establishment may store certain other information (e.g., inventory, price, proprietary information) locally.

Examples of an island include Grand Cayman Island, The Island of Kauai, etc.

Examples of resorts include all Disney Orlando resorts, Disney Epcot resorts, the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, Martha’s Vineyard, Hilton Head, N.C., Lake Tahoe, etc.

Examples of shopping neighborhoods or districts include 5th Avenue, N.Y., Napa Valley, Calif., the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., an ocean boardwalk, etc.

Examples of marketplaces include flea markets, festivals (e.g., music festivals, theater festivals, film festivals, etc.), fairs, amusement parks, theme parks, etc.

How it Might Function

I’d recommend that people who might be interested in learning about how this system could work try to make their way through the legalese in the document. Fortunately, there isn’t any math like in many search related patents. The patent application is filled with a lot of examples of how many aspects of this system would function, and I’ll summarize some of those with the following list. Here’s a little more about what it tells us about:

  • Describing how dynamic promotions work,
  • Printing coupons or emailing them to a store,
  • Creating and displaying ratings of products and services,
  • Providing waiting time information,
  • Showing how products can be searched for and displayed in the system including the use of price ranges,
  • Presenting graphical descriptions of where different stores are located in relation to each other,
  • Giving out driving and walking directions for a shopping session, and;
  • Many others.


I could see sitting at home, visiting my local mall online, and planning out a shopping trip using a process like this.

Deciding that I want to go on beach vacation, I may consider buying some new swim trunks and other clothes for the trip, maybe a book or three to read near the waves, a new CD or two for the drive, some flip-flops, suntan lotion, sunglasses, a beach towel, and so on. I go to a site online for the shopping center, and try to locate all the things I’m looking for, while looking at reviews and prices.

I find many of the items on my list and even some coupons and discounts for many, which I print out. I read some book and music reviews, and read parts of the books and listen to snippets from the CDs that they have in stock. I ask for walking directions and a map of my trip through the stores.

Within an hour, I have a plan, and I get in my car, and go shopping. I don’t have to wait for something to be shipped to me, and I can wander around randomly all I want looking at things I might have forgotten. If I want to look for some other things that I realized that I may need, I can go to a kiosk, and search around some more.

I get home, and look at some of the stores and restaurants in the town which I’m thinking of traveling to, and see how much it costs to charter a boat, what the local restaurants have to offer, and where the bands are playing (don’t know if it would tell me that, but it should). I collect some of that information, and pack it with my new clothes, get in my car, and I’m off (I wish).

It sounds like this could work.

Holy grail of shopping? I don’t know. But, it would be interesting to see someone try to implement something like this.

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