How physical stores can benefit from the surge in online shopping

Jason Spero / September 2020

Life looks and feels very different now than it did at the start of 2020. The use of technology by people and businesses leapt forward during lockdown, accelerating remote working, e-learning, e-commerce, and online social connections. People are spending more time online than ever before and are turning to Google to explore, research, and plan their purchases — both online and in the real world.

Owning physical stores is incredibly difficult right now. Yet retailers of all sizes are finding that maximising their presence online can help them reach potential customers who do want to buy in person. Connecting offline and online retail experiences has never been more important.

Buying behaviours have changed dramatically in the last six months and many of those behaviours are likely to stick. People are planning their visits to stores more carefully, leading to a spike in interest for real-time information. People care about what’s in stock, and they want to know whether a store offers curbside pickup and when its doors open and close. Everyone needs reassurance that they’ll find what they’re looking for before they leave home.

For example, in Germany, we’ve seen search interest for “opening hours today” double compared with last year.1 And global searches for “in-stock” have grown more than 700% year over year.2 At the same time, shopping locally has become even more important: searches containing “available near me” have more than doubled globally.3

Retailers of all sizes are finding that maximising their presence online can help them reach potential customers who do want to buy in person.

New Google research shows the pandemic has made people more flexible about whether they buy online or offline. Seventy-three percent now describe themselves as channel agnostic, compared with 65% before the global health crisis.4 While the pandemic has accelerated digital adoption and online sales are growing, new research from Euromonitor found it’s expected that 78% of purchases will still be made in stores by 2024.5

Meet your customers where they are — whether online or in stores

My team’s mission is to help companies of all sizes drive growth by meeting consumers where they are, whether online or in store, and to put digital transformation within reach for more advertisers.

For instance, to help connect retailers with shoppers looking for more contact-free purchase transactions, we introduced “curbside pickup” for Local Inventory Ads.

Research found it’s expected that 78% of purchases will still be made in stores by 2024.

DIY retailer Castorama is just one of the many retailers globally that quickly pivoted to launch curbside pickup service amid lockdown orders and store closures. To keep its customers informed, Castorama updated its Google My Business profile and started using Local Inventory Ads for the first time, highlighting its new offer. Overall, Castorama saw online sales increase tenfold over a 10-week period.

To give retailers more flexibility, we’re now expanding this capability with the launch of “pickup later” for local inventory ads so that shoppers can pick up a purchase in a few days if it’s not available right now.

New attributes and tools to make buying online even easier

We’re also making it even easier to communicate key details about your business by launching service attributes for Local Campaigns. Restaurants can now specify services like dine-in or takeout in their Local Campaigns ads on Google Search. And we’ll soon be adding retail service attributes such as “in-store shopping” and “curbside pickup”. These features help people use digital tools to explore the world around them, providing greater certainty and reassurance when they make a trip to physical stores.

These tools have all been developed with an eye toward helping retailers and restaurants maximise visits. At the same time, we’ve begun to integrate store sales measurement within our automated Smart Bidding product. Designed with privacy at its core, retailers and restaurants will be able to automatically optimise for “store sales” on Google Search in the same way that Smart Bidding already does for online conversions or store visits.

There will continue to be challenging times ahead. And we’ll continue to pivot, innovate, and respond to shifting needs. To help you stay up to speed, we’ve created one simple hub — the Advertising Solutions Center — which provides insights and recommendations designed to meet your marketing goals.

The retail environment will continue to evolve at a rapid pace, and thankfully, online marketing tools can help drive recovery. While I don’t know what 2021 will bring, I do know the use of technology will help people and businesses prepare for what’s next.

Jason Spero

Jason Spero

Vice President, Global Business at Google

Sources (5)

1 Google Trends, March 2020.

2 Google Trends, June - August 2020.

3 Google Trends, February - April 2020.

4 Google, Smart Shopper Research. UAE, IL, RU, SA, ZA, DE, UK, TR, EG, NL, SE. All product buyers of CE, Home, Fashion, Toys. n=11047 (11453). 2019-2020.

5 Euromonitor (custom consulting project for Google). UK, USA, DK, SE, ES, IT, DE, FR, PL, NL. Retail Foresight. n=9577. June 2020.