Mobile search isn't just some thing people do when they're not near a PC. The smartphone has become as much of an offline shopping tool as a touchpoint for ecommerce. And it's not just an up-funnel "research" touchpoint. Google's own consumer research reports 56% of mobile searches "on-the-go" have local intent. 50% of local-mobile product searchers visit a store within 24 hours (vs 34% of desktop and tablet users), and local searches convert 2.5x higher than smartphone searches without local intent.
The study also found 73% of mobile searches lead to some form of "touch" conversion (calling the business or visiting the store), and half of these actions occur within one hour. 18% of local searches converted to an offline sale, compared with 7% of non-local - 250% higher conversion.
But these touches take time - calling stores, visiting websites to check store availability (and that's if sites show local inventory), using clunky store locators.
The ability to check stock availability pinpointed to the location, along with directions and contact information within search results certainly makes it easier for customers to purchase offline efficiently. So it's no surprise that Google's evolving its search products to support this behavior and connect retailers with customers in the local-mobile context. Its Local Inventory Ads program is currently used by the likes of Macy's, Sephora and REI (contact your Adwords rep to see if you're eligible).
The ability to target these closer-to-conversion searches is a huge competitive advantage for participating merchants -- especially during the holiday season.
Where proximity marketing is headed
Local Inventory Ads are a great first step in serving research-mobile-buy-local shoppers. But I predict this won't be the last iteration of Google's search products.
Imagine if a customer could reserve-and-collect, paying for the item directly within the ad unit? Or communicate with the store to set the item aside, alerting sales staff when the customer is entering the store via beacons or Google Nearby? Receive a push notice when the item is ready to pick up or the hold window is about to expire?
What if a store could connect its GPS wayfinding tools to Google, recognizing the customer's local search upon store entry, and even suggesting cross-sells and upsells?
Cross-touchpoint attribution is a universal challenge, and connecting digital interactions that take place via mobile with in-store purchases is huge.
It will be exciting to see what innovations spring up in the next few years from Google and others, as there's a lot of room to close the gap between digital and physical search-to-buy experiences.