Peter Fitzgerald online

Desktop computers, cameras, Walkmans, pagers and the like have all but been replaced by a single platform in our pocket: the smartphone. And being constantly connected is affecting the discovery of local services. 

In the past, finding a product or service nearby used to require a combination of the Yellow Pages, a paper map and a telephone. Now we can quickly and easily find things around us. And we are, in massive numbers.

Words like ‘near me,’ ‘closest,’ and ‘nearby’ are increasingly common as Google queries. More and more, people are looking for things in their vicinity-be it a product, a shop, or a special offer. Google search interest in ‘near me’ has increased 34 times since 2011 and nearly doubled since last year. 

I recently organised a large party for friends and wanted to buy fresh sandwich platters, homemade cakes and extra glasses, teacups, cutlery, the lot, somewhat at the last minute. But I didn’t feel like driving into town or to a big supermarket. So I did my research first, and ended up buying most of the things from local stores, some of them new to me, all within a five-mile radius of our home. The party was a success but in reality I was lucky to pull it off thanks to the efficiency of online research.

And I’m not alone. In the UK, 91% of smartphone users have performed local searches, including directions, product availability, sales, customer service and the like. In fact, the most common request made was for business hours (56%), followed by product availability (41%) and directions (40%). 

I recently went on holiday with my family, and every restaurant bar one during the week we found on our mobiles. 

So what does this mean for you? Well, you need to make sure your business is ready to offer useful information in the moments that shape consumer behaviour. 

If someone is searching for ‘find organic beef near me’, is your store there to offer it? We know that in the UK, two in three consumers want ads customised to their city, postcode or immediate surroundings. 

Macy’s is a retailer already taking full advantage of this. Any time someone gets ice cream on her top, it makes sure a search result can say ‘Macy’s has eight items of the top you want, in your size and desired colour available right now in the store that’s five minutes away’.

By accounting for a consumer’s constantly changing location, all businesses can benefit, whether an online-only company serving certain cities, a bricks & mortar store trying to reach local consumers, or a multichannel organisation hoping to drive consumers from online to store.

Peter Fitzgerald is country sales director at Google UK