Main Street Retail

Pointy Partners with Google to Help Local Retailers Compete Against Amazon

Amazon’s onslaught against brick-and-mortar retail is relentless. Today it controls about 5% of all American retail, according to Bloomberg, and is on track to take 49% of all online spending this year predicts EMarketer.

Amazon is the competitor that keeps local independent retailers up at night. Some 73% of independent retailers surveyed by the Advocates for Independent Retailers report that Amazon has had a negative impact on their revenue.

One reason is that 55% of all product searches start on Amazon, according to a study by BloomReach.

Search-engine Google isn’t sitting on its hands as its dominance in product search migrates over to Amazon. Only an estimated one-fourth to one-third of consumers use online product search first.

But Google remains the first place consumers look for information about local businesses. Four in five customers access local business information through search engines, with location, directions and hours of operation the primary information delivered up by Google in the Knowledge Panel.

Now Google in partnership with startup Pointy is adding product information to the Knowledge Panel on desktop displays and on Google Maps when consumers use their smartphones.

Pointy gives local retailers a way not only to tell customers about their business, but also to tell them the products they will find when they visit.

Here is a link to the “See What’s In Store” display for Kansas City-based Tail Waggin’ Pet Shop.

Maybe it can’t turn back the tide of Amazon’s onslaught, but it gives local retailers a powerful way to compete for customers who want something now, not in a day or two, or who simply prefer to shop local when they can.

See what’s in store on Google

Increasingly smartphones are the shoppers’ tool of choice when navigating their day-to-day lives. Now with this new partnership, retailers have another tool in their arsenal to put their best foot forward online.

“While digital has become more integral to the consumer journey, physical stores still remain a significant part of the shopping experience,” said Tingmui Li, Product Manager, Google Shopping, in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Pointy to enable retailers of any size to help their next customers find them on digital and drive them to stores through this easy and free program.”

Pointy is the brainchild of Mark Cummins and Charles Bibby who know what local retailers need and how to work with Google to deliver it.

Cummins first company was acquired by Google in 2012 and the new Pointy venture just secured $12 million in Series B capital from Vulcan Capital, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s investment firm and Polaris Partners. This round added to the company’s previous funding which included backers Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress) and Lars Rasmussen (co-founder of Google Maps).

“For all the hype around e-commerce and the media narrative of ‘Retail Apocalypse,’ people still make the vast majority of their purchases in local stores,” Cummins said in a statement. “But local retailers have lost out in not having their products visible online — we solve that problem for them.”

How it works

Pointy was designed to seamlessly and effortlessly integrate with retailers’ day-to-day operations. “The retailers’ experience is simple,” Cummins explains. “They sign up for Pointy. We ship them the Pointy box that they connect to their point-of-sale system and within minutes their product website is being populated with inventory and keeping itself up to date. We manage all the images, descriptions and inventory.”

Here is a link to the detail inventory display for Tail Waggin’ Pet Shop.

As products are sold in store, Pointy records the product via barcode and is smart enough to assess inventory levels, based upon how often the product has sold in the past. “We can tell from the pattern of sales whether the product is in inventory,” Cummins says.

“If a product sells every 20 minutes, then it doesn’t sell for a couple of hours, we can tell it may not be in stock, in which case we display a message that the inventory is uncertain. Most local retailers don’t keep very good inventory data, so this helps them manage that as well,” he continues.

Reaching critical mass

Google and Pointy are on target to reach a critical mass of retailers taking advantage of the new Google What’s In Store feature. “We will reach a milestone in the next few months with 10,000 retailers using the service,” Cummins says, which represents what the company estimates to be about 1% of the over 1 million retail establishments that are its target.

With the exception of apparel/clothing stores, Pointy is aiming for any and all Main Street retailers whose primary business relies on foot traffic. “About 70% of our accounts are independents with one-to-five locations, though we are working with larger chains with 100 locations or more,” Cummins explains.

Early adopters of the Pointy service include liquor and wine stores, pharmacies, pet stores, hardware stores, health food and toy stores. Its sweet spot is retailers that sell products that are bar coded and brands that people are likely to search for or recognize.

“Retailers understand the importance of Google Maps to make their stores discoverable,” Cummins says. “This just takes it to a new level, making the products they carry discoverable on Google too. It is a location service for products.”

While Pointy doesn’t facilitate e-commerce for local retailers, that decision was deliberate, Cummins explains. “Your typical local retailer is not set up for shipping and returns via e-commerce,” Cummins says. “That may be a step too far. But Pointy is very easy for retailers to do in order to get additional foot traffic without them having to do anything new. Our mission is to make the contents of local stores discoverable.”

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