In its evolving product search efforts, Google has been dabbling in “find it in store” functionality over the years. This is a challenging area involving lots of moving parts and point of sale inventory data from retailers. Krillion, NearbyNow, Milo and a handful of others have cracked this nut to a certain degree for their own sites as well as partners.
Google’s latest move came at December’s “Search Event.” Buried among many other announcements, VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra unveiled find-in-store functionality in mobile searches. As Google sees greater levels of immediacy, buying intent, and conversions in mobile search, it’s a logical place to continue this effort.
Blue Dot Special
Today the feature goes live, taking the form of little blue dots in mobile search results that indicate product inventory and proximity data. Proximity is determined by the MyLocation feature that must be turned on for effectiveness. It also currently only works on iPhones, Android and Palm WebOS (i.e., Palm Pre).
This happens in free-form searches where product names or categories will trigger such results (or searches taking place within the “shopping” tab). It could eventually be much more effective with UPC bar code scans where inferred intent or human error is taken out of the equation. Google has already gone down this road.
Local inventory data and mobile bar code scanning have already come together — in the way of chocolate and peanut butter — with ShopSavvy. But for this to really take off, a bigger addressable market is required in the form of more high-end phones with auto-focus lenses and scanning software.
Meanwhile, back to plain old mobile search, there are still moving parts as mentioned. Getting retail inventory feeds requires direct relationships with retailers. Currently Google covers Best Buy, Sears, Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn. More will come, and more will indeed be required for a worthwhile user experience.
Better Search, Better Leads
As you might imagine, Google will employ a self-serve approach. As there is more consumer awareness, retail awareness should likewise grow, and they might show up in meaningful numbers to supply these point of sale feeds. Then comes the challenge of the much bigger and fragmented mid-market and SMB (mom-and-pop) retail segments.
A monetization model will follow. Advertiser adoption here could mirror what Google has done with AdWords. It could likewise end up creating the same reseller market among local sales channels. It would seem that a trackable way to drive foot traffic into physical stores would resonate more with a typical mom-and-pop than would the concept of buying clicks.
If Google can solve this problem, it will be a major boon for the local search and overall product search market, and a major source of revenues. It will also be great for consumers, the mobile market, etc. But one step at a time.