Google has been telling anyone that will listen just how bullish it is on local/mobile commerce, and it has backed the bombast with a series of initiatives (Places, Place Search and Tags just to name three recent, relevant examples) to aggressively court SMBs and better connect with consumers at a neighborhood level. The latest is the formal rollout of Google Product Search, which will provide searchable and categorizable online product inventory for local branches of more than 70 retailers.
Product Search extends what began in March with the beta trial of Blue Dots, which charted product stock at selected retailers. Now several additional sellers are joining the program, including Best Buy and Williams-Sonoma.
Google joins a host of companies trying to connect online product search to offline purchase, including Milo, Krillion, ShopLocal and NearbyNow. But the Mountain View, California, search giant isn’t worried about the numbers game. Its focus lies on two other numbers:
1) The U.S. online-research-to-offline-buying market is estimated at $917 billion in 2010, swelling to $1 trillion next year. It accounts for the lion’s share of spending, with online e-commerce spending commanding only 7 percent of total U.S. sales.
2) Of the 93 percent of retail purchases occurring in-store, almost half are driven by online research.
Google Product Search does more than simply list inventory by product and store. Consumers will be able to tailor searches to only those brands that are currently available at nearby locales. It is also introducing a “popular products” feature, which shows most-viewed items within a particular search category. “Aisles” enables searchers to organize targeted queries into subcategories.
Google is complementing its release of Product Search with a mobile component. Its Google Shopper application for Android allows on-the-go shoppers to use “brand” and “price” search filters for more efficient discovery. Barcode scanning functionality will remain, too.
With nearly $1 trillion in sales, the pool looks deep enough for multiple competitors. In fact, Milo CEO Jack Abraham recently told BIA/Kelsey that it’s big enough that one company won’t dominate, and that Google’s serious foray is “helping to develop the market.”
Of course, Google can play zero-sum games (just ask its online search counterparts). A crucial next step for the big G, or any other company seeking growth and differentiation, is to extend online-inventory-to-offline-purchase to SMBs. And that is no easy proposition considering that there is not a clear-cut, frictionless roadmap for how to capture that opportunity at scale.