For some time I’ve tried to argue that product search is part of “local search,” because 90 percent or more of all products searched for online are purchased in physical stores. This is a neglected part of the local search story, which has heretofore largely been about “plumbers and pizza.” But the internet is fundamentally a research tool that drives offline transactions. E-commerce is, relatively speaking, a niche phenomenon.
That’s why mobile applications such as TheFind’s new iPhone app or Slifter and others are significant: they help bridge the gap between the internet and physical stores. They also help make this online-offline connection more transparent to brands, retailers and agencies.
Nielsen found in May of this year that among “a representative group of people who had recently made consumer electronics purchases in a brick and mortar store, 80 percent bought from a store whose Web site they visited first.”
Two years ago BIGResearch released data showing that 89 percent of consumers making in-store purchases in key categories conducted online research prior to purchase. There is much more data, from comScore, Yahoo and others, validating the pattern: consumers research online but buy offline.
A range of companies has been building out local inventory data or mechanisms that allow consumers to search for and, in some cases, reserve products in local retail stores: Krillion, NearbyNow, Shopatron, Where2GetIt, Channel Intelligence, ShopLocal. Those data are starting to make their way more broadly online and soon we’ll see an explosion of it all over the internet. While Amazon probably won’t be threatened by this, no-name e-tailers will likely suffer.
Krillion, NearbyNow and Where2GetIt were on a panel at SMX Local-Mobile discussing product inventory syndication, store finders and mobile distribution.
In-store price comparison search using mobile devices is already happening. That is: people looking at a product in the store trying to decide if the price is competitive. But the combination of in-store inventory data with device location-awareness is extremely powerful: “They don’t have it here; where can I find it within a reasonable driving (or walking) distance from here?”
People are wondering about mobile advertising and “how far off” it is. This above use case immediately brings with it myriad advertising opportunities, including opt-in sales and product alerts and coupons on mobile devices. The iPhone is where all this will immediately become evident, but it will play out more broadly on other smartphones and later feature phones. And this is all near-term stuff. Indeed, the era of product and shopping search on mobile devices is already here.