Inventory Data for SMBs: A Conversation with NearSt.

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I’ve always said that the next big horizon’s in local will be retail inventory data. We’ve seen lots of development in this area from players like Retailigence, which obtain reliable data from throughout the retail supply chain.

One challenge has always been to take this principle down-market to SMBs. There you run into familiar fragmentation challenges of several small businesses that are hard to corral. Just ask any local sales force.

This challenge is even more pronounced with inventory data.  Just like with payment processing or appointment booking, SMBs employ a spectrum of legacy systems — sometimes pen and paper — that are hard to onboard.

“Click and Collect”

It’s with this backdrop that U.K.-based NearSt enters the market. With London as a launch market and plans to expand to the U.S., it’s focusing on the growing use case of researching online and picking up in-store.

Founder Nick Brackenbury wants to combine the ease of online shopping with the immediacy and instant gratification in-store pickup. This isn’t new, but it’s growing with an increasingly on-demand culture.

In fact, one big distraction has been the “showrooming” scare. Shoppers researching in-store then buying online didn’t really turn out to be a threat. It turns out that the opposite — “webrooming” — is more prevalent.

To fulfill that need,  NearSt works with SMBs to bring their product inventory online in a searchable format. Unlike Retailigence which is best-of-breed with data, NearSt also wants to be a consumer destination.

Brackenbury likens it to food ordering services (sans delivery) like GrubHub and Seamless. They work with restaurants to bring menus online in one central place, through which ordering happens.

“We’ve taken that principle and brought it to retailers,” said Brackenbury, who’s launching first for booksellers, with plans to expand to other retail verticals. The revenue model is to take a cut of the transaction.

Near and Far

NearSt will likely require adequate product selection to make it an attractive consumer “one-stop shop.” And that will start with on-boarding local businesses — an area where Brackenbury claims steady progress.

The next steps for NearSt could be to work with channel partners that have complimentary SMB services (think: payment processing or payroll). That’s one way to accelerate the SMB onboarding and its network effect.

Brackenbury is also excited about the local sales data that will be the byproduct of its transaction engine. This could be valuable intel for offline attribution — an increasingly popular segment of the advertising world.

Meanwhile, the other important question is the technology itself. Getting product inventory data from SMBs has always been the hard part. Brackenbury explained it’s finer points off the record, but also offered a taste.

“Even your Mom-and-Pop store tracking their inventory in an Excel 2003 sheet can get up and running in 2 minutes, and then basically forget about the system until it notifies them they have an order request,” he said. “It’s this adaptability and apparent technical simplicity for shops that we think is key in cracking this market.”

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