But in 2019, I would bet there’s scarcely a day that goes by without you using Google Maps when planning to eat out, find a service provider, or find something interesting to do. That map on your hand has become a given.
It felt odd that Google could do something so advanced, yet couldn’t answer very basic questions about where to buy things locally.
A real world anecdote
The real world roots of an existing local need
I wonder that carries X?”
I predict that within a few years, you are going to use the Internet to find local stock as frequently and readily as you’ve come to use its mapping capabilities. This chat with Mark explains why.
My initial idea was a bit crazy — I wanted to build a robot for retailers that could push around the shop each evening and picture all the shelves, and use image recognition to find out the stock and also the prices. I spent some time seriously thinking about that, but landed
The next big thing in local already exists
So I ended up going to 3 different shops in search of this specific product. It was not a convenient encounter, and it had been an all-too-common one.
Miriam: Mark, I understand that you were formerly a Google Search Team member, with a background in machine learning, however that your trip with Pointy began by walking right into retail shops and speaking face-to-face with associates. What did those owners inform you about their challenges in connection with offline/online stock? A memorable real-world anecdote would be fantastic here.
After the tragic fires we’ve had this season in California, I needed to wet mop all the floors in my house rather than vacuuming them, due to my worries about particulate contamination in the atmosphere. My mom recommended I purchase a Swiffer. I needed to know where I could find one locally, but that I did not turn to the Internet for this, because the Internet does not tell me this. Or at least, it hasn’t done so until now. Few, if any, of the neighborhood hardware stores, stores, or large box retailers have dependable, live online inventory. At precisely the exact same time, calling these places is often a huge hassle because staff isn’t always sure what’s in stock.
I’d recently moved to a new state and I needed to get a lot of items to prepare a new apartment, so I had that kind of experience all the time. It felt as though there was a massive gap there that search engines might help with, but they were not.
And yet, there’s one thing you are still not utilizing the Internet for. And it is something you probably wonder about almost daily.
90 percent of purchases still take place in physical shops and it’s Mark who has seen this gap in available online understanding about offline stock and has now set out to bridge it.
Initially I would just walk right into retailers and talk to them about the way they managed their stock. I was trying to figure out if there was some uniform way to bring the inventory information online. I quickly learned that it was going to be challenging. Nearly every retailer I talked to had a different way of tracking it. Some kept records . Some didn’t count their stock in any way.
Unless you’re a cartographer or a frequent traveler, odds are good that your answer is, Hmm, maybe less than once a month. Maybe once or twice a year.” The experience is pretty much seamless — simply plug in Pointy, and watch your store site build itself. The Pointy box connects directly via the cell phone system, so there’s really nothing to establish. New products automatically get added to a store page, old products get removed when you do not sell them, product stock status syncs automatically. We did quite a lot of machine learning to make that all automatic.
Miriam: My perception is that the Pointy Team needed to do a ton of legwork to put together different product catalogues where information is pulled each time a product is scanned so that its data can be displayed on the internet. I am not familiar with this concept of product catalogues. What are they, what types of information do they contain, and what did you have to do in order to pull all this together? Moreover, is it true your staff hand-reviews all of the product information?
Mark: Well, I would almost say that there isn’t a normal Point of Sale program. The market is really fragmented, it occasionally feels like no two retailers have the same system. There’s a huge range, in the old-style systems which are essentially a glorified calculator using a cash drawerup to contemporary cloud-connected systems like Clover, Square, or Lightspeed. It is very tumultuous for retailers to change their POS system, so older systems have a tendency to remain in use for quite a while. The systems also differ by perpendicular — there are technical systems such as pharmacies, liquor stores, etc.. Dealing with all that variant is what makes it so hard to acquire uniform neighborhood inventory information.
On the concept of this Pointy box, and it can be a much simpler solution.
An easy inventory alternative is born
Miriam: Thus, you spoke with retailers, listened to their own challenges and noticed that they have Point of Sale systems set up. And Pointy was born! Please, describe what a Pointy apparatus is, how it solves the issues you learned about, and fits in with existing Point of Sales technology.
Miriam: Can you briefly explain what a normal Point of Sale system is like for retailers these days, in light of the being technology many retailers currently have set up?
So we developed the Pointy box. The Pointy box is a small device that attaches to a merchant’s barcode scanner. Basically it connects the barcode scanner into a site we create for the retailer. Whenever the merchant scans a merchandise with their barcode scanner, then we understand the barcode, and record the product on the site. The end result is live website list everything in the shop — here’s an illustration for Talbot’s Toyland, a toy store in San Mateo. They have more than ten million products listed on their site, with no manual work.
Mark: If you’re operating in shopping search, then merchandise catalogs are really important. Every mass-market product has a unique telephone number, but sadly there isn’t any master database where you are able to enter a barcode number and get back the item’s name, picture, etc.. So basically every merchant must work out this issue for themselves, laboriously entering the item details in their systems. Pointy helps remove that work for retailers.
There are a few product catalogs you can permit, but every one covers a fraction of goods, and errors are common. We built a huge data pipeline to pull all this product information into a single catalog and clean it up. We automate a lot of the job, but if you would like the highest quality then machine learning alone is not enough. So every single product we exhibit also gets accepted by a human reviewer, to make certain it’s accurate. We’ve processed millions of products in this way. The Final Result Mark: We keep that information updated dwell. We also handle price information, though it depends on which attributes the retailers is using. Some retailers prefer to not exhibit their costs online.
We have worked a lot with Google to produce the installation experience for neighborhood retailers very simple. You simply link your Pointy account to Google, and your live inventory appears at the Google Business Profile. However, the user experience is only a few clicks. We’ve seen a lot of uptake from Pointy users, it has been a remarkably popular feature. We have somewhat more detail on it .
Miriam: I was curious to learn that Pointy is the launch partner for Google’s See What’s In Store attribute, and readers can see an instance of the with Talbot’s Toyland. Can you describe what’s involved for retailers who want their stock to look in the SWIS region of the Google Business Profile (aka Knowledge Panel”) and why this represents such a significant opportunity?
What about special retail situations?
It allows retailers display their full product catalog and live stock data in the Business Profile on the Google search page. It’s also visible from Google Maps. I’m guessing Google will probably begin to surface the information in more ways over time.
Others have it as an additional profile, in precisely the exact same manner that they may have a Facebook webpage or even a Yelp page. The main thing Pointy attracts is the full live stock of the store, which generally is not listed anywhere else. To integrate with their other web presences, most simply link across in their most important sites or societal media profiles. A few also embed Pointy in their websites via an iframe.
For the retailer is they simply plug in a Pointy box, scan a product, and their website starts populating itself, no data entry needed. It’s a pretty magical sense that the first time you watch it.
Where real-time local stock appears on the web
Miriam: And how can this work when, by way of example, a product goes out of stock or goes on sale to get a different price?
Miriam: So, essentially, Pointy makes getting real-world inventory online
I believe that this will become table stakes for retailers in the next couple of years, in the exact same manner that having your opening hours online is now. Consumers are just going to expect the ease of locating local product information on the web. I believe that is a fantastic thing, since it is going to help local companies win back clients that might otherwise have gone into Amazon.
Miriam: So, after that, the goods the retailer scans produce the manufacturer’s own inventory catalog, which appears on their Pointy page. What tips would you offer to business owners to best integrate their Pointy webpage by using their brand website? Linking to it from the main menu of the site? Something else? And do all these Pointy pages comprise SEO fundamentals? Please describe.
We work a lot on making these pages as SEO-friendly as possible. The queries we focus on rank for are things like product title ” or product title, location.” We’ve got an engineering staff working on this all of the time, and we have actually discovered a few interesting things.
It is totally free for retailers, which is pretty interesting. Google Shopping has always been a paid support, so it is notable that Google is currently offering some organic vulnerability with this new attribute. Mark: we would like to bring the planet’s brick-and-mortar retailers on the internet and provide them the tools they need to flourish. More than 90% of retail travels through brick and mortar shops, so there is no reason they shouldn’t have an wonderful technology platform to help them. The fragmentation and problem of accessing data has held back everyone, but I think Pointy has a shot at fixing this.
Miriam: Ultimately, Pointy has only been available in the US since 2016, and in that short quantity of time, you’re already serving 1% of the country’s retailers. Congratulations! What does the near future look like you for retailers and also for Pointy?
Let’s saya farm stand with constantly-changing seasonal produce, or a clothing boutique with hand-knit sweaters? Is there a Pointy solution for them?
Mark: Yes, a few larger retailers might have the ability to send us a direct feed from their inventory systems, rather than installing Pointy boxes at each POS location. We aim to support whatever is easiest for your merchant. We are also directly incorporated into modern cloud POS systems like Clover, Square, Lightspeed, Vend, and others. Users of these systems may download a free Pointy program in their system’s app shop and integrate with us this way. And for retailers not using those systems, they can utilize a Pointy box.
On the flip side, there are still plenty of openings to reach customers . If small companies invest in staying ahead of the game, they could do very well. Lots of local merchandise hunts basically have no response, since most retailers have not managed to receive their stock online yet. It’s simple to rank well for a question when you’re the only one with the response.
In case a local retailer you promote is seeking a competitive advantage in 2019, I would seriously be considering early adoption of Google’s See What Is In Store attribute. It is prime Google Business Profile (previously Knowledge Panel) property, so long as SWIS is absolutely free and Pointy is so cheap, there’s a pretty incredible opportunity to put yourself apart in those ancient days with a very modest investment.
I believe Pointy has exactly what it takes to be successful, but I’m going to wish you good luck, anyway!
For small and independent retailers who just don’t have the opportunity to manage a complex e-commerce system. I know that you have some different strategies to supply larger ventures, including their existing IT systems. Can you talk a bit about that, please?