This year, sales of smartphones such as the iPhone or Androids are projected to surpass sales of traditional wireless phones. And no wonder: Smartphones put the power of the internet in people’s pockets, including the power to search for your business. So, search by phone opens up new opportunities for local businesses beyond what happens when customers or clients search at home.
Here are two key distinctions:
Smartphones know exactly where your customers are. First and foremost, mobile searches return listings that are near where the potential customer is at that moment. That is a big leg up for local businesses.
Smartphones are there when your customers are shopping. That makes mobile search more action-oriented. A recent survey by Google and the research firm Ipsos found that 88% of smartphone users take an action such as visiting or calling a store within a day of searching for local information; 36% take action immediately. Increasingly, phones are being used to check prices and recommendations while the customers are in the store.
Bottom line: You need to get smart about search by smartphone. Here are more trends in mobile search that could help your local business.
The difference between mobile and desktop search will go away. Think mobile phone use is only for people being mobile? Think again. Smartphone users surveyed by Google and Ipsos said the place they most often use them is at home. In other words, smartphones are a constant companion; users will search on whatever’s handy and don’t see a difference among devices.
Action Steps: You need a mobile website in addition to your standard site because you don’t know where your customers will be coming from. A mobile website has three main features: 1) It’s sized for a mobile phone screen, so all the information is displayed in a readable fashion 2) it displays your phone number as a “click to call” link, so users can just tap the screen to dial your store or business and 3) it shows your location on a map.
Apps compete with search engines for attention. There’s an app for finding the nearest Starbucks, finding the cheapest gas station, even finding a public restroom. Contrast that to web search, where Google and other search engines monopolize the action.
Action Steps: Apps aren’t just for Starbucks-sized businesses; small firms are creating them to allow clients to book appointments, get coupons and access other services. You need to make sure you’re listed on the relevant apps. The best way to do that is to make sure your business information is accurate on listings directories around the web. One way to keep track of whether it’s accurate is to use a reputation management tool.
The phone camera is now a search tool. With a scanning app, a smartphone user can snap a photo of a barcode in your store and instantly check on the product specs and prices at other stores. Or a customer can scan those squiggly lines called QR codes in a phone directory or on a shop window and get sale information from the web. And these are just the early days of image-recognition technology.
Action Steps: You’ll need to monitor competitor prices, even at online stores, and be prepared for smartphone-waving comparison shoppers. Experiment with QR codes—they may be an effective way for you to pull mobile phone users into your business.
Product inventory is going public. Google’s product search for mobile and eBay’s Milo mobile app connect with retail inventory systems such as JDA or Oracle and make items in a store searchable online. In a way, it’s good news for local merchants competing with online retailers, but it also makes the local retail market more competitive. Big chains are the clients for these apps now, but Google and eBay say they want to open up opportunities for small merchants in the near future.
Action Steps: Watch this space carefully—local product search could be a game changer.