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Google Opens Local Shopping Feature to Small Businesses

New feature aims to help turn shoppers browsing online into in-store buyers by showing what products local shops have in stock.

Google is attempting to help small businesses convert shoppers browsing online into in-store buyers with its "Local Shopping" feature.

The feature lets shoppers search for goods online then see who locally has the product in stock. Google started with big retailers such as Sears and Best Buy in March, but this month has opened up to small businesses.

Google isn't the first to highlight local inventory, of course. Two-year-old Milo – whose founder Jack Abraham made this year's Inc.'s 30 Under 30 list – hit its millionth user last December, just as it exited beta. (Among Milo's investors: Mint's Aaron Patzer and ComScore's Magid Abraham, who is Abraham's father.) Milo lists some 50,000 stores and 2.8 million products, and in April began reaching out to small independent firms.

"Everyone seems to think that when Google has something new, it will stomp out competitors," Abraham told VentureBeat last year, when Google first announced its plans. "It just doesn't end up working that way."

Getting listed on Google's Local Shopping requires a bit of administrative work -- about five steps -- and the company says that not everyone who applies will be accepted. One prerequisite: good product search quality, including unique product identifiers. You'll also need to have your store listed on Google Places, which requires submitting and verifying your listings, if you haven't already. Businesses hoping to make the Local Shopping cut also must be open to the public. "By appointment" businesses don't qualify.

A study earlier this year shows that everyone (well, 97 percent of respondents) uses the Internet to help them shop locally. According to a March report from research firm BIA/Kelsey and its partner ConStat, 90 percent of users use search engines, 48 percent use Internet Yellow Pages, and 42 percent use comparison shopping sites. On average, consumers use 7.9 different media sources when shopping for products or services in their local area, up from 6.5 sources in 2009 and 5.8 in 2008. More than half of those surveyed (58 percent) say they used a coupon they got online when shopping for products or services in their local area.

A separate Forrester study estimated that retail sales valued at $917 billion were "Web-influenced" – and that by 2014, the Web will influence $1.4 trillion in sales, or 53 percent of all sales.

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Last updated: Sep 8, 2010

COURTNEY RUBIN

Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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