Even as more people shop online, searches for ‘available near me’ up over 100% vs. last year
Google's Reena Nadkarni explains what retailers can do to drive local sales.
Despite new state lockdowns and significant e-commerce growth over Black Friday weekend, large numbers of consumers continue to shop offline. Beyond this, local shopping remains critical for most small businesses (SMBs), many of whom may not survive if they don’t make their Q4 sales numbers.
Google, Facebook, Yelp, Waze and others have initiated programs and product changes to help local businesses throughout the pandemic. Google My Business introduced numerous updates and changes this year, most recently launching a Small Business Advisors program to improve Google product knowledge and utilization.
Consumers more cautious, yet focused
To gain a better sense of what Google thinks retailers (large and small) can and should be doing now to maximize local sales, I spoke with Reena Nadkarni, Head of Product Management, Local Ads.
“Most shoppers now plan ahead about when and where to shop,” said Nadkarni. That stands in marked contrast with past offline “browsing” behavior, where people typically went out and visited numerous stores on a spree, looking for inspiration.
“They want to feel safe; they’re trying to avoid crowds,” Nadkarni observed. Among other things, that means implementing contactless payments, curbside pickup, real-time product inventory and online communication about in-store safety protocols. Indeed, most local restaurants I’ve dealt with in the past six months have online ordering or take contactless payments or both.
In support of her observations and recommendations, Nadkarni cited a range of Google 2020 surveys and search data:
- 80% of shoppers will consolidate shopping to make fewer trips than in previous years.
- Searches for “available near me” have grown globally by more than 100% since last year.
- 67% of shoppers plan to confirm online that a desired item is in stock before going to buy it.
Getting local product inventory data online
This last point, nearly 70% of consumers want assurances that their item is in-stock before visiting a store (or buying online for curbside pickup), relies on real-time product inventory. Large retailers can get their inventory online with a local product inventory feed through the Google Merchant Center. That inventory can then be showcased in Local Inventory Ads (or organic popular products), which indicate whether the item is in stock and available for curbside pickup — or will be available in a few days (“pick up later“).
In contrast to large retailers, SMBs have either not shown interest or been technically challenged by the idea of posting real-time inventory online. However, Google’s January, 2020 acquisition of Pointy enables small retailers to add products to their GMB profiles and simplifies the process of running Local Inventory Ads.
Pointy uses an ingenious and simple method to get local store inventory online, which can then be presented in organic search results or paid search ads. It uses a small and inexpensive device that attaches to a point-of-sale barcode scanner. It requires little or no effort on the part of the business owner and is compatible with multiple POS systems.
Local campaigns and smart bidding for store visits
Beyond Local Inventory Ads, Nadkarni pointed to Local Campaigns, which run across multiple Google properties, including Search, Maps and GDN. They can “highlight products available at your store, curbside or in-store service options, health and safety updates, special promotions, and important business changes on a store-by-store basis at scale for multiple locations.”
The primary objective of Local Campaigns is to drive offline sales. Nadkarni also suggested Smart Bidding for store visits, which enables local marketers to optimize campaigns (limited availability) for store visits.
She added that marketers also need to pay close attention to “digital tools and measurement reporting to keep a pulse on changing consumer behavior and foot traffic.” These include retail category reporting, store visits and store sales reporting, which can help marketers understand consumer intent and changing consumer behavior.
Options for ‘very small businesses’
Most businesses in the U.S. fall into a category that some call “very small businesses” (VSBs). In fact, roughly 90% of businesses verified in Google My Business have only one location (this comes via Google My Business Platinum Product Expert Ben Fisher). For businesses that can’t replace local sales with online transactions, Nadkarni again recommends Local Campaigns.
One issue is that many VSBs don’t have meaningful marketing budgets. In such cases Nadkarni advises that they take advantage the multiple Google My Business features, which are free:
- Complete GMB profiles (including images)
- Relevant business attributes (e.g., curbside pickup)
- Publish Google Posts/COVID Posts
- Product inventory information (if possible)
- Regularly update hours and safety information to keeps customers apprised of changes in this volatile shopping environment
Finally, it’s critical for businesses of all sizes to actively manage their reputations on Google and other review platforms.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.