Since early 2006 I’ve been writing about the “offline future of online shopping.” And since that time a collection of startups has been working, mostly under the radar, to bring real-time local product inventory data to the internet. In November of 2010 Google joined that effort with local product search.
Now when you do a product search Google will show you local store availability — mostly at large retail chains. However, Google just said in a blog post that it’s also going to make local product availability a feature of Place Pages:
When you provide Google with local product availability data, your Google Place Page will now automatically include a new section, ‘Popular products available at this store’, featuring five popular products along with price and local availability. For shoppers unfamiliar with your business, this section shows the types of products available in your store.
Most small retailers don’t yet have their product inventories to the point where they can feed them to Google for display on local Place Pages. However this move may encourage some regional and smaller retailers to make their product data available online.
How this will play out in terms of increased visibility or SEO value is unclear. Google already displays local store availability for many product searches on Google.com.
In addition to Google other companies trying to bring local product inventory data online include:
- eBay (Milo)
- JiWire (NearbyNow)
As this local product inventory data becomes more pervasive consumers will become accustomed to searching online for local store inventory information. Ultimately that will have a negative impact on e-commerce growth.
Somewhat ironically in-store mobile shopping may give e-commerce a boost, though only for a small number of trusted online retailers (e.g., Amazon) and store brands. Some savvy smartphone-enabled consumers are using stores to confirm they want product X or Y and then buying online via their phones.
In 2010 e-commerce sales accounted for 4.2 percent of total US retail sales, according to the US Census Bureau.