Simon Says "Your Product is In-Stock!" The Rise of Product Search Today and How MULO Brands Should Respond

Simon Says “Your Product is In-Stock!” The Rise of Product Search Today and How Brands Should Respond

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Simon Property Group recently expanded its Simon Search technology, enabling mall-goers to determine if the brands they want are in-store,  before they head out to shop and spend. Product search before visiting a multi-location (or other) business is nothing new. Google reports that 74 percent of brick-and-mortar shoppers will do some online sleuthing before they hit the store.

Restaurants also find that 94 percent of diners research restaurants (primarily looking at reviews) before eating on-premises or ordering delivery. They often search for specific features like gluten-free options or kids’ meals.

Another industry that relies heavily on product search is the cannabis retail business. Because most sales occur in-store, the availability of specific products/strains is often crucial to shoppers. Because this retail business grew up in the technology era and is heavily regulated, inventory reporting is generally accurate.

Place AND product are both important factors in today’s consumer decision-making. That requires multi-location (MULO) brands to be more diligent than ever in ensuring that the products, foods, and reviews searchers find are up-to-date and relevant.

A recent SOCI study revealed that many brands have been asleep at the screen regarding accuracy and response time to reviews, costing as much as $2.4B in lost sales (not to mention brand perception problems).

Close to half of shoppers use a retailer’s website or app to find what they want in-store, according to a PwC study. That means keeping inventory data current is critical. Once a shopper is in a location, the retailer’s goal should be to fulfill their immediate product need and create experiences that prompt upsell and new product trials. In fact, that same study revealed that 50 percent of shoppers still value sales associates who are knowledgeable and personable.

But the selling process doesn’t begin and end by simply having a size 9 popular brand sneaker on the shelf or gluten-free avocado toast on the menu. Fulfilling the immediate customer need — accurately — is just the start of the process.

According to 93 percent of customers, exceptional customer service leads to repeat purchases. And we all know from our shopping and eating experiences that if we are “promised” a particular product or menu item and then discover that it’s out-of-stock or no longer available (or the people in the store don’t know what you’re talking about), we start the transaction with a negative view of the multi-location brand.

Retailers and restaurants can’t control the supply chain. And, even with the best intentions, a popular product may sell out quickly. Staff must be trained to suggest alternatives and/or offer shipping or pick-up from a nearby location in the case of retail.

But, let’s say we CAN find that product we crave. What can brands do to ensure repeat purchases?

In the era before automation, dedicated salespeople would call customers (on the telephone!) to tell them about new items that came into the store, category and store-wide sales, and special events.

Now, retailers and restaurants have the data they need to deliver that same type of personalized experience — at scale!

Just as Amazon leverages its “If you bought [THIS], you might like [THAT], physical multi-location retailers and restaurants need to create the same types of personalized recommendations around buying behaviors and product brand loyalty.

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.