As consumers have embraced the Internet and incorporated it into their lives a funny thing has happened: shopping at local stores is more likely to start online. Back in 2006 about 16% of in-store retail sales were started online and Forrester Research predicted that by 2012 that number would grow to 38%. Add to that the 11% of all retail sales that are completed online and almost 50% of all retail sales begin online.
We now live in that future predicted by Forrester, and the Internet is no longer just a web browser experience. The iPhone and iPad world where the screen comes to us is more likely to serve us the Internet using an application (App) which connects for a specific purpose. Indeed, the number of users accessing the Internet using a mobile device will exceed those that use a computer in the next 5 years according to Morgan Stanley.
In our world of mobile devices the customer that researches a purchase online may be at home, but she is just as likely to be in the neighborhood or even in your store comparing prices with a competitor up the street. To compete for this consumer it is no longer enough to maintain a website with your inventory, your inventory also needs to be available to a wide variety of services that drive the local search experience.
Google commands an important role for search on mobile devices especially since their Android smartphone just overtook the iPhone as the number two platform. Local Shopping is Google's program to link products from local stores with mobile searches.
There are already Apps for finding wine at local stores including WineFindr, Snooth and Wine-Locator. Other Apps plans to move into this space which is exciting although it also presents a challenge for retailers to stay on top of successful Apps. For help with this Vintank does a nice job of reviewing the most promising Wine Apps.
Red Laser is a popular bar code scanning App that allows you to find products based on a barcode scan from your phone. It will locate the product online, or using Milo.com will find local retailers that have your item in stock. Milo.com aims to be a key player in local product search and already lists inventory from 50,000 stores from large retail chains. Purchased by eBay last year Milo.com has begun accepting inventory uploads from smaller retailers. Their strategy for smaller stores is to install a widget on the store's POS to push availability updates every 5 minutes. Building consumer's confidence in the accuracy of their In Stock message is their goal.
How can you prepare your business to be in a good position to reach your local and connected customers? In many ways this comes back to maintaining clean data in your POS system: work to keep your inventory accurate; include only current and complete UPC codes for each item; and maintain vintage and size as unique fields. Unfortunately there are a few liquor store POS systems that will make compliance with Milo.com's In Stock standard difficult to achieve. A number of major NY stores are on a system that can only provide daily availability updates. Also a number of major NJ stores are on a platform where they pay their POS vendor for each availability update; a policy that will need to change before stores can send updates every 5 minutes. For most stores the experience of maintaining an ecommerce website has been the motivation to improving their data quality. Mobile shopping is one more way this effort will pay off.