A few weeks ago, just in time for the holiday shopping season, Google launched "local availability" in its Product Search for desktop searches, presenting a fantastic new opportunity for brick-and-mortar stores to share product availability at locations local to the searcher. According to Google, while 46% of retail sales are influenced by Web searches, more than 90% of retail transactions occur in a brick-and-mortar store location. Several "big box" retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Kmart are already using the functionality, but smaller, local-based retailers will have the chance in the future to take part in local availability as well. Retailers participating in the program have to update their products and prices at least once a day, helping to ensure that searchers will get accurate information about which local stores have specific products in stock.
Works with Barcode Scanning Too
A rising trend in the mobile market is the use of barcode scanning technology via mobile phones. One barcode technology provider, ScanBuy, released a study earlier this year indicating that barcode scanning has increased by 700% in 2010. Barcode scanning has become a method to locate the exact product you want or find it at the price you want, and as smartphone adoption becomes more prevalent, more shoppers will have the ability to scan barcodes on items and find them locally. Fortunately, local availability results also are displayed for Google Shopper searches and Google Products searches from mobile phones, making it easier to find the product you're looking for at the price you want.
A Personal Story
I personally am a big fan of barcode scanning. Recently, I was shopping for a formal dress at a local department store. Unfortunately, the store didn't have the dress I wanted in my size. The solution? I simply aimed my phone at the UPC on the dress tag, and voila! I immediately found other locations where I could purchase the dress, both online and locally.
Who Is Eligible for Local Availability Today?
First, you'll need to submit and verify your store locations via Google Places, which can be done here. The Local Availability program is also still in beta, so to participate, you'll need to fill out an interest form with Google.
Also, you'll need to be sure that you're using JDA, Epicor or Oracle retail software. Google partnered with these specific retail software vendors to create adapters to make it easy to upload current product availability into Google Products.
I do, however, see one potential downside for searchers using local availability: hot products. Hot products present a problem for searchers because, if certain products typically sell out in less than 24 hours, the local availability information may be inaccurate since retailers are only required to update inventory levels once per day. However, from the retailer perspective, hot products present further opportunity to drive shoppers into your store, even if a hot product ends up being out of stock when the searcher arrives at the brick-and-mortar location.