As more people shop online this year, searches for 'Available Near Me' up over 100% vs Last Year
Despite new state lockdowns and significant e-commerce growth over Black Friday weekend, large numbers of consumers continue to shop offline. Beyond this, local shopping remains critical for most small businesses (SMBs), many of whom may not survive if they don't make their Q4 sales numbers. Google, Facebook, Yelp, Waze and others have initiated programs and product changes to help local businesses throughout the pandemic. Google My Business introduced numerous updates and changes this year, most recently launching a Small Business Advisors program to improve Google product knowledge and utilization.
Consumers more cautious, yet focused
To gain a better sense of what Google thinks retails (large and small) can and should be doing now to maximize local sales, Mike Poulter spoke with Reena Nadkarni, Head of Product Management, Local Ads.
"Most shoppers now plan ahead about when and where to shop," said Nadkarni. That stands in marked contrast with past offline "browsing" behavior, where people typically went out and visited numerous stores on a spree, looking for inspiration.
"They want to feel safe; they're trying to avoid crowds," Nadkarni observed. Among other things, that means implementing contactless payments, curbside pickup, real-time product inventory and online communication about in-store safety protocols. Indeed, most local restaurants I've dealt with in the past six months have online ordering or take contactless payments or both.
In support of her observations and recommendations, Nadkarni cited a range of Google 2020 surveys and search data:
80% of shoppers will consolidate shopping to make fewer trips than in previous years.
Searches for "Available Near Me" have grown globally by more than 100% since last year.
67% of shoppers plan to confirm online that a desired item is in stock before going to buy it.
Getting local product inventory data online
This last point, nearly 70% of consumers want assurances that their item is in-stock before visiting a store (or buying online for curbside pickup), relies on real-time product inventory. Large retailers can get their inventory online with a local product inventory feed through the Google Merchant Center. That inventory can be showcased in Local Inventory Ads (or organic popular products), which indicate whether the item is in stock and available for curbside pick up - or will be available in a few days.
Options for 'very small businesses'
Most businesses in the U.S. fall into a category that some call “very small businesses” (VSBs). In fact, roughly 90% of businesses verified in Google My Business have only one location (this comes via Google My Business Platinum Product Expert Ben Fisher). For businesses that can’t replace local sales with online transactions, Nadkarni again recommends Local Campaigns.
One issue is that many VSBs don’t have meaningful marketing budgets. In such cases Nadkarni advises that they take advantage the multiple Google My Business features, which are free:
Complete GMB profiles (including images)
Relevant business attributes (e.g., curbside pickup)
Publish Google Posts/COVID Posts
Product inventory information (if possible)
Regularly update hours and safety information to keeps customers apprised of changes in this volatile shopping environment
Finally, it’s critical for businesses of all sizes to actively manage their reputations on Google and other review platforms.