By Jennifer Shaheen.GoogleInventory_Body.jpg

One of the biggest challenges small business owners face is bridging the gap between online interest and in store sales. The situation is particularly tough for independent retailers, who often don’t have the name recognition or massive advertising budgets larger chain stores enjoy. Google and Facebook have each put forward their own version of a marketing tool that can help level the playing field: local inventory ads.


Local inventory ads allow retailers to show customers online which items are in stock and in what quantity. If a customer is interested, they are directed to the retailer’s landing page, where the store owner has the option of making the item available in three different ways: purchase online, buy online-pick up in store, or in store only.


These options are important. While interest in online purchasing remains strong, surveys show that customers remain committed to in-person shopping. In May, Salesforce surveyed U.S. consumers to determine where they preferred to buy certain types of products. More than two-thirds of all customers preferred to purchase apparel and accessories, footwear, home goods, jewelry and similar products in person.


At the same time, customers are increasingly doing their initial product discovery and research online. Sites such as Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms give consumers a quick and easy way to identify products they’d like to purchase. Pinterest is particularly powerful: last year, the platform reported that users began saving images of products they’d like to receive for holiday gifts four months in advance. Further, the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that 76 percent of mobile users have clicked on at least one ad they’ve seen while they’re on social media.


GoogleInventory_PQ.jpgHelping customers make the purchase

Once customers have searched for the products they’re interested in, retailers can use local inventory ads from Google and Facebook to make the purchase process as easy and convenient as possible. For instance, Google local inventory ads show searchers what nearby retailers have items in stock. If a customer is interested, they are directed to the retailer’s landing page to purchase the item in the way that’s most convenient.


Facebook’s dynamic advertising tool is a newer offering. These ads also highlight inventory available at local stores, using carousel style image displays to show several different products at once. Retailers can tag their ads using relevant keywords. Facebook is using these tags in conjunction with mobile device users’ location data to target the ads appropriately. Unlike Google local inventory ads, which allow retailers to set a budget ahead of time, Facebook dynamic advertising currently charges retailers after the fact, based on the number of times the ads were served to nearby shoppers. Be aware that if you’re located in a shopping mall or dense urban area, you may not have access to Facebook dynamic advertising, as the development team hasn’t yet worked out how to determine whether people in your vicinity are active shoppers or just random foot traffic.


Customers use both search engines and social media interchangeably to find products they want. With that in mind, small retailers should consider making use of the local inventory advertising opportunities that exist on both Google and Facebook. If you want to choose just one, experts recommend looking at your website analytics to determine where the majority of your traffic is coming from, and invest there first.


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