Milo.com has undertaken a most ambitious project — to be the Google of local product inventory data. The site, which just announced it has come out of beta with 1 million monthly users, is trying to create a massive database of real-time inventory from local (mostly big box) stores. Right now the site offers live inventory information for roughly 1.5 million products. The site likens itself to Kayak in many respects, in terms of the capacity to filter by brand, stores, ratings, and other features.
There are several others in this “real-time inventory” segement, and others that have tried and failed to build a comprehensive database of product inventory information.
First there was StepUp commerce, which tried to be a marketing platform for small business product sellers (e.g., local appliance store) and deliver a feed of inventory information to Google and others. Intuit bought StepUp in Q3 2006 and that was the end of StepUp as it had existed until then. ShopLocal has retailer circular data — proxy information for what’s in the store — but not actual in-stock information. However the company’s model has changed. It has gone from being a consumer destination to a marketing platform for its retailer partners. (ShopLocal is doing some very progressive things in mobile, social media and search, as an aside.)
Krillion is still very much in the game of syndicating real-time inventory data and is doing so with a range of partners, but is not seeking to be a consumer destination site. NearbyNow, which began by aggregating retailers in shopping malls and providing a concierge “reserve online, pick up in store” service has more recently moved almost exclusively into mobile app development for magazine publishers.
Milo and Krillion’s model fits consumer shopping patterns: research online, buy offline (ROBO). Notwithstanding all the stories of e-commerce growth and Cyber Monday, online buying is still about 4% of total US retail. Consumer behavior has become more complex and “multi-channel” over time, but most things are still bought in stores. This is what I keep stressing about local and why it’s important: IT’S WHERE THE MONEY CHANGES HANDS.
Google recognizes all this fundamentally and so tucked in the long list of announcements during the Search Evolution event was this (paraphrased) statement from Google Engineering VP Vic Gundotra:
In addition to shopping online, there are times you want to know if that product is available locally. Soon inventory feeds of local stores will be available in Google Product search.
Indeed, Google wants to be the “Google of local product inventory data.” Without duplicating my previous posts on the subject, “The Google” is bringing a dizzying array of assets and tools to end users via mobile, including visual Product Search (Goggles) for price checks, reviews and, soon, local inventory information. Google is the first of the major search engines to throw down this gauntlet, or throw it down again, because Google tried it initially in 2005 and aborted for lack of comprehensive data.
Now, with its local/maps and mobile capabilities, Google will be more than formidable in this emerging “real-time local shopping” arena.
Others (read: Microsoft, maybe Yahoo) will have to answer — especially given how much effort Microsoft has put into the shopping vertical. This will create huge opportunities for the few companies that are in a position to provide this data, either to partner or become acquisition targets. And you can bet that Milo will be one of those targets.