Local Search’s Killer App: Real-Time Inventory

Filed in Local Search by Matt McGee on December 21, 2006 2 Comments

local searcherThe driving directions are pretty good. Mapping & satellite imagery continues to advance. Customer reviews are very powerful. But local search still needs a killer app. It needs something that will raise its own profile, raise the profile of businesses marketing in the local search space, and — wouldn’t this be great? — raise the profile of the mobile industry, which everyone has been calling the “next big thing” for several years now.

I believe that killer app is real-time product inventory.

We know that local search is heavily slanted toward a “search online, buy offline” process. So, local search needs to make that process easier and more productive for the searcher. Researching online and shopping offline is great, until you have to drive from Best Buy to Circuit City to Staples to Comp USA to buy the item you found while searching online.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article addressing that talks about a variety of efforts now underway — from big players and small — to make real-time inventory a widely available reality.

Online local searches have been around for a while, but they have been hit or miss, largely because inventory information at the store level is hard to get. A site called Yokel.com, for example, does a far better job of finding merchandise in its hometown of Boston than elsewhere around the country. Yokel Inc. Chief Executive Scott Randall says it will take a year for the company to cover the nation’s 25 top metropolitan areas as well as the service covers Boston.

What’s difficult for a smaller player like Yokel might be easier for the big boys. So, enter the search engines.

Some major retail chains that let customers check inventories at local stores on their own Web sites are also starting to share that information with search engines. And Google is working with Best Buy, Barnes & Noble Inc., Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to make those chains’ inventories more accessible online. Over the past year, its Google Base and Froogle Local programs have also amassed local inventory feeds from smaller businesses.

This is local search’s killer app, and I expect we’ll see a big push on this front in 2007 from the Yokel’s and Google’s of the world. And don’t discount the shopping search engines, who already have relationships with retailers and get direct product feeds from those retailers. They may have more of a lead on real-time inventory than anyone.

(We’re only talking about shopping and products at this point, but you can imagine how this could be extended years from now as technology improves and integration becomes easier: How about real-time information about the current wait at your favorite local restaurant? Wouldn’t that be great?)

Since the WSJ has this article behind its subscriber wall (sigh), you’ll have to piggyback on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s reprint. Here’s the link:

Search engines help shoppers to buy locally

[tags]local search, shopping search, yokel, google[/tags]

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  1. olegb says:

    Interesting thought. We have launched a system (qItem – http://www.qitem.com) for small businesses to make it extremely simple and easy to track inventory nearly “real-time”. One of the options that we are working for future releases is to allow a “public view” of specific items to be seen on the web by others. This way, an admin (or someone with sufficient rights) could “allow” excess inventory to be sold off, for example, or final product assemblies to appear “in inventory” for browsers.

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