Online tools to help retailers during lockdown and beyond

By Nick Brackenbury, Co-Founder of retail technology company, NearSt.

Last year was a turbulent year for retail and 2021 is similarly throwing up its own challenges. With many shoppers remaining indoors, bricks and mortar retailers are having to adapt to find new ways of trading online.

We all know about the boom in ecommerce sales, but what’s been largely overlooked is the even bigger surge in shoppers going online to hunt out products in nearby physical shops.

Google reported a staggering 8,000 per cent increase in searches for phrases like “who has  ___  in stock” in 2020. At NearSt, we’ve seen this materialise into a massive increase in local product searches coming through our platform – a measure of people looking to find products in local shops that are showing in-store stock in places like Google.

Today we are seeing four times the volume of local product searches compared to pre-pandemic levels, with spikes of up to eight times during the April and December lockdowns. That’s a sustained quadrupling in people going online to find products ‘offline’ in physical shops.

This emerging consumer behaviour of searching and discovering products online to buy in nearby physical stores presents an exciting new opportunity for electrical retailers.

Throughout 2020 at NearSt, we’ve been working with our retailers to identify the tools and features that have had the biggest impact on helping them to continue to trade.

We’ve grouped our top six here that we think can help boost your footfall in 2021:

1 – Google See What’s in Store

See What’s In Store enables your customers to browse your entire inventory in Google when they search for your business, all from the safety of their own home, before coming in to purchase. You don’t need any product data or images to use this; we generate these automatically for you based on the barcodes in your stock management system.

2 – Reserve a Product

If you’re closed to walk-ins, allowing customers to reserve your products for collection is a great way to help them continue shopping with you.

Once people find what they need through your Google See What’s In Store, they can click through to your NearSt shop page where they’ll find a ‘Reserve a Product’ button.

You’ll be sent an email with the customer’s request, along with their contact details, to arrange collection directly.

3 – In-store signage

Let your customers know they can browse your inventory on Google (or wherever else they might choose to browse). Shoppers often assume local retailers don’t offer these features and helping remind them that it’s easy to browse your products online is a great way to help boost repeat business, even when you’re closed.

4 – WhatsApp

Shoppers often want to check that you still have an item in stock or find out more about a product, and you can now let them easily contact you via WhatsApp Business. Once you enable the feature, we add a WhatsApp link to your shop page so customers can reach you directly.

WhatsApp Business also keeps this separate from your personal WhatsApp account, and can be managed via your phone or a web browser on your PC, helping you easily serve your customers on a convenient channel.

5 – Google Local Inventory Ads

When Local Inventory Ads are enabled, NearSt shows your products to shoppers searching for them nearby in Google at the top of search results. Local Inventory Ads appear for customers near your shop who are searching for terms relevant to your business; whether it be for specific items like “Sonos speakers” or general terms like “hi-fis”.

The shopper can see you’ve got the product they need, get directions to your shop, and other key contact details.

6 – Facebook shopping integration [Bonus!]

Coming very soon! We’re working on something exciting that will help you better serve customers browsing your Facebook page.

All of these features are available through NearSt for just a few minutes of setup work. NearSt provides a simple integration with your EPOS or inventory management system, and then automatically creates high quality products that can appear in places like Google and WhatsApp.