Google galvanized a lot of mainstream attention for the online-research-for-offline-purchases market with its recent rollout of Product Search. But with the total sales pie expected to eclipse $1 trillion in 2011, it’s a big enough playground for more than just the big G to stock store inventory online. Milo, which jumped into online-to-offline product search while Google was beta testing Blue Dots (the precursor to Product Search), has added a series of new features and enhanced its partnerships to make it a viable option during the holiday shopping spree.
First, Milo teamed with PriceGrabber to list product inventory at local stores on its site. It has a similar deal with consumer reports, and well as integration with Yellowbook.
Milo currently teams with 150 retailers (Best Buy, Nordstrom, Advance Auto Parts) encompassing more than 50,000 stores to show real-time product availability and price. CEO Jack Abraham not only wants to recruit more retailers, and perhaps move down-market to attract a new breed, but also sees partnerships as vital to expanding Milo’s visibility for those stores. He told BIA/Kelsey that partnerships span four categories: “search, shopping, local and media.”
The Palo Alto, California, start-up also went mobile for the first time, unveiling an Android app (and soon an iPhone counterpart). The early success sent Abraham a strong message about the fundamental value of mobile shopping and the importance of fostering a seamless mobile experience. “I was skeptical from a user standpoint initially,” he conceded. “But it’s been huge for us. The direct relationship through the mobile platform allows you to truly own your users.” Now, ensuring that their retailers are automatically optimized for mobile is an important next step in Milo’s evolution onto the new platform.
With Google already allowing businesses with registered listings on Places to offer coupons and Facebook having recently rolled out Deals, it was inevitable that Milo would counter with a similar option. Indeed it has, offering both printed and buy-online, redeem in-store coupons that pop up automatically based on a user’s location and specific product search.
Coupons are also equipped for mobile, so consumers can simply call them up on phones and have them scanned in-store. And unlike Facebook, Abraham stressed, no check-ins are required for special offers to activate. Instead, they appear when consumers — potentially new customers — are already deep in the purchase funnel, searching for specific goods and already primed to buy.
Abraham is serious about moving down-market to target smaller businesses, even local SMBs. But can this be accomplished with any measure of efficient scale? Abraham acknowledged that “it’s a hard problem to crack,” but one that Milo is working on.
The company recently conducted a trial with inventory from 100 pilot stores and found the local merchants, generally speaking, to be engaged. Among many challenges, the greatest may be adapting the technology for smaller businesses, which have different inventory systems and product data than the national brands that Milo is accustomed to servicing. A turnkey solution that SMBs can easily install will be necessary.
The scale challenge extends to merchant recruitment as well. That’s where media companies with embedded local sales forces such as Yellow Pages companies could be natural partners. Abraham said that Milo has been approached about this idea, and though nothing is active yet, it is in the company’s consideration set.