What Does Local Product Availability on Google Place Pages Look Like

Yesterday, Google announced that merchants could now include local products directly on their Places Page. This is part of a long term trend to provide significantly more granular and time based information about local businesses on-line. This has long been part of Google’s local vision that has finally materialized in a way that local merchants can now take advantage of.

When and where is this information highlighted? What are the implications for local search marketing? Is there a local marketing opportunity now? Can a small merchant take advantage of the opportunity?

The local product information seems to currently surface at this point only on general product searches not on geo specific searches. IE the search for “Digital Cameras” will return a local product result but a search for “Digital Cameras Buffalo NY” will not. The results show above the fold as the 3rd or 4th search result. In that sense it provides potential for increased visibility to local retailers on high volume head terms.

If one clicks on the Nearby Stores link under a given product, it takes the user to a screen that displays the product pricing and location prominently on a large map:

The good news is that this, at least at present, provides very high visibility to those stores that have taken advantage of Google’s Local Product Search capability. The bad news is Google’s prominent (and somewhat deceptive) display of the link to the lowest online price of $900. As in most online lowest prices, this one comes with the caveat of being available at eBay but not including a box and was in actuality not new but a display model.

It seems unlikely that the user would proceed from Google’s inventory map into Places as phone, address and directions are offered at this level. If a user were to go deeper the user would see a Places page with 5 products from the merchant prominently displayed:

Will small merchants be able to take advantage of this feature? The current Google Local Shopping inclusion rules seem to preclude stores with less than 10 locations (although that is not totally clear). For most small merchants Google’s requirement that a product list be updated weekly and prices and quantities be updated daily would require both sophisticated inventory control and the ability to generate the upload formats for Google. Even if Google allows single stores to participate, it is unlikely that many would have the inventory system in place to do so.

If Google does allow single store participation (I have the question into Google), it is conceivable that a small merchant could participate without a fully automated system with a small excel based inventory and 5 minutes a day.

I will be interested to hear of cases of smaller merchants participating in the program. Have any of your smaller, local clients been uploading their data to Google’s product search? What benefits, if any, have they seen?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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11 thoughts on “What Does Local Product Availability on Google Place Pages Look Like”

  1. What a coincidence this post is, Mike. I spent most of last night searching my 2 neighboring counties for a wicker loveseat. This search, sans geographic modifiers, does bring up a couple of box stores (Target, Home Depot, Walmart) as well as Amazon.com in a display similar to your screenshot, but there are no links to nearby stores.

    I was hoping to find that some small businesses had optimized their websites’ content well enough to appear for this search (with the geo-modifier) but the only one that had is apparently going out of business. I just don’t like buying from the big boxes, but in this case, I just could not find an independent business with what I want. Maybe, if Google was allowing small businesses into this deal, I would have been able to find a truly Local, truly independent purveyor. As it was, I ended up having to go to an import store (not listed in the Google results layout), but this was the result of about 10 phone calls and not really from what I found online.

    We’re still not there yet with live product data, but I would say Google’s rollout of this feature is one step along the way. Should be interesting to watch and interact with. Thanks for reporting!

  2. Yes it still is just baby walking. But I think it was 2006 when I first wrote about Google’s obvious desire to put local inventory online. It took them 5 years and some product failures to do so, but this is an incredible start.

    Then customers will learn what it means and use the results. I think once SMBs see this in the results it will motivate a lot of them to get their inventory act together.

  3. I think you’re right, Mike, especially about the concept mentioned in your post about the need to manage inventory. Most of the stores I visit are understaffed, but could it be that the future of the small local business will have to include the hire of a dedicated online inventory manager? That would create good jobs for a lot of folks and could prove a very lucrative investment for the business owner.

    But…it doesn’t preclude the need for folks on the floor to help the customers who come in, whether driven there by the web or not. You should have been with us a few weeks ago when we went to Kmart to look at tread machines. Took us 15 minutes to get someone to help us and when the guy finally showed up, the key to turn the machine on was gone. 15 minutes later, we got a demo. It was pretty ridiculous. So we went to a second store, again really understaffed, and the key to that same machine was also missing and no one could find it.

    A comedy of errors, and we did not purchase a walking machine. Big $$$ lost. If online inventory were to get treated this way, you’d have a ton of very unhappy customers coming in for products that have sold out but haven’t been updated on the web.

    I don’t mean to be negative, but as I try to think this forward, I wonder how well it will work.

  4. @Miriam

    If you see which retailers currently have product online, it is those with sophisticated inventory systems that are updated by the minute. Clearly that level of sophistication does not guarantee accuracy and precludes many small businesses.

    If however it turns out to drive sales, I could envision smaller merchants focusing on a few, manageable items and putting in place a process to monitor and upload those to Google so that it does work for them.

  5. Interesting. I was speaking with a Mattress store client this morning and in his industry the major mattress companies have different product names depending on the retail outlet. Meaning Macy’s can sell the exact same mattress as his store but it has a completely different product name. Wonder if and how this system will handle something like that. Basically the question is how detailed will their product search be for inventoried items.

    I could even envision unscrupulous SMBs posting false inventory lists to get buyers in the store and then switch them to something they actually stock. In those cases Google would get the blame by any media outlet that picked up on the story.

  6. @Mark

    Right now, Google is not showing inventory on the search “mattresses” but the 7-pack so it is a non issue. I suppose that it reflect the lack of local inventory and Google’s interpretation of the intent. I would think it will show more going forward as both things change.

    I guess it depend on how Google ranks the products and decides which to show. Initially, it would seem that there would be some early adopter advantage in having the inventory up there at all.

    Bait and switch is a “time honored” if not FTC honored practice. It will be interesting to see it evolve here as well…. I think like the locksmith scams which Google didn’t create but surely amplified, in the end it was the locksmith industry that took the PR hit not Google.

  7. This is a good idea. This is helpful to both the consumers and the manufacturers. Consumers will find it easier to know and find the nearby places or shops where they can buy certain products they need. Manufacturer will also benefit because the people on their town or city will go directly to them rather than going to other shops on far places.

  8. now, its up to the business owners to jump on the wagon…i find its a great way to expand your visibility as you said …on broad search terms.

  9. Hi Mike,
    It appears that you can participate with less than 10 stores, you just have to submit your store data through the Google Merchant Center rather than a bulk upload through Places. This is from the Merchant Center help page, “Submitting Business Listings Data”:

    “If you don’t already submit a data feed to Google Places, you may want to submit your store data through Google Merchant Center, which will then forward the data on to your linked Google Places account. We recommend that you select this option if you prefer automating your uploads or if you have fewer than 10 store listings.”

    I still don’t know if a small merchant can really fully participate in the “Nearby stores” data feed. We are working with a local appliance retailer that is trying to get in. I think we can meet all the technical requirements, but I can’t find examples of small appliance retailers that have broken into the local product data. There are only big box retailers. The Official Google Blog, dated 11-15-10, which you linked to in your post, says the following about Local Product search:

    “Local availability on Google Product Search: We’ve partnered with more than 70 retail brands—including national retailers like Best Buy and Williams-Sonoma, as well as software manufacturers like JDA, Epicor and Oracle—to connect shoppers searching online with local stores that have the items they’re are looking for in-stock.”

    So are we just spinning our wheels trying to conquer something only available to the big box guys, or have they opened up the program since they wrote the blog post? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll call Google’s customer service line. Oh wait. I forgot. They don’t have one.

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