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Can NearbyNow Escape The Fate of Local Shopping Search Engines?

NearbyNow [1]Greg Sterling points out [2] that a number of companies are attempting to build out inventories of local brick-and-mortar stores and expose this info via search capabilities. Greg notes [3] that NearbyNow has just raised $11.75 million in additional funding, and that there are compelling reasons to believe that local product shopping search satisfies a lot of user needs and conforms to existing shopping behavior. Greg states:

Every shopping engine that doesn’t have this local store data will suffer at the hands of those that do. The significance of this and its potential impact on online shopping (and by extension mobile) cannot be overstated.

My initial gut reaction to NearbyNow is along the lines of: “I’ve seen this during the era of dot-bombs, and it didn’t work — why should it work now?”

NearbyNow’s press release and other articles about it [4] mention the iPhone and how that demographic is a great target for their service and that iPhone users are a perfect fit in terms of discretionary income and such. The press release mentions NearbyNow’s new iPhone application that will allow consumers to graphically navigate shopping malls, search the inventory of stores by product, and list available sales in local stores.

The business concept reminds me a lot of StoreRunner, a local product shopping search engine back in the dot-bomb era which offered similar services, and ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy [5] back in 2001.

So, why wouldn’t NearbyNow be prone to the same sorts of problems that StoreRunner had in making local product shopping search a viable enterprise? On a high level, they both have a number of parallels: they take in local store inventory data; they make that data searchable so that endusers may be able to find products listed at local stores and they can compare prices; they both are distributing the data through other sites; and both are founded on startup capital with the hopes of achieving eventual profitability.

I agree with Greg that the information and services conform closely to what consumers often are seeking, and that this syncs up nicely with existing consumer behavior (consumers have been shown to frequently research products online, find local stores online, and then go and buy the products directly at their local stores — so a service which enables one to find local stores carrying a particular product matches up with this need pretty nicely).

There’s lots of cases where some idea came about before its time, and perhaps local product search is one of those. Consumers are more educated about search these days, and may be more open to being helped by specialty search engines. Also, it could be that some of the fine-tuning of the concept could actually get it into a sufficiently profitable shape.

Some reasons why NearbyNow might perform better than StoreRunner and other predecessors:

If NearbyNow could also now achieve partnership with a major search engine, or at very least, if they could enable natural search optimization for their content, they could grow adoption of their information up past that “critical mass point” where users will wonder how they ever did without such a service. For instance, if Google were to desire to take the next evolutionary step in development of their Product Search vertical, they would provide local product search features like this along with the pure online product search they’ve been offering.

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