Many of this year's holiday shoppers will be swapping aisle browsing for website scrolling for the first time ever. And many retailers, especially small businesses, will be moving their sales online for the first time, too.
In time for the big digital season, Google has made some big changes to its Shopping tab in an effort to make its listings more accessible to small and medium-sized retailers, which could be a huge benefit to businesses as the industry enters its longest holiday shopping season ever.
Back in April, Google made it free for all retailers to list themselves on the Shopping tab for the first time. More recently, the tech giant added a "nearby" search filter in September for consumers to find local merchants to buy from. These changes should make it easier for consumers to discover products they want on the Shopping tab.
"We felt we needed to make sure that consumers could find the best products, at the best prices, from the best sellers on Google," said Bill Ready, Google's president of commerce, in an interview with Business Insider. "And also to make sure that merchants were able to fully participate, regardless of whether they're a large retailer or a small business."
Business Insider spoke with Ready about ways that retailers can build up their online presence on Google Shopping this holiday season, so they can reach customers in a crowded digital marketplace.
"Given that there's a much greater number of consumers going online for shopping journeys, first, just be present," Ready said.
That's primarily why Google made it free for merchants to get online this year — the company wanted to give merchants the ability to be present online without worrying about cost, while also giving consumers broader search results.
Ready explained the easiest way to be discoverable during a crowded holiday season is for retailers to "make sure they're making the full catalog and full set of inventory available, which you can do in the Google Merchant Center for free."
Though new retailers who are making the transition to e-commerce for the first time this holiday season might want to focus on making their website sleek and intuitive for customers, Ready said taking the time to upload their products to Google will aid with discovery of their product and shop.
"When consumers come to Google — as hundreds of millions of consumers do each day — and search for an item, then they'll be discoverable."
Offer flexible pickup options
While many holiday shoppers will be testing out online shopping for the first time ever this year, some will still want the option to visit a physical store after shopping online.
"You see many consumers starting out their shopping journey online, but then completing it with options like 'buy online pickup in store,' or curbside pickup, or just visiting the store," Ready said.
For that reason, Ready said that retailers need to provide various types of purchasing options to online shoppers. It also underscores the importance of having an online presence, even if you plan to keep your brick-and-mortar location open, because so much decision-making will happen during the online portion of the shopping process.
"Consumers, even when they're coming to the register in the store, spend time online to know which store is going to have it, so they can spend as little time as possible in the store."
Find your local customers
As the pandemic has had an outsized effect on small local businesses, consumers have realized that to save the neighborhood shops and restaurants they love, they have to buy from them. Google wants to help shoppers do that.
In addition to customers now being able to filter search results to find small businesses, Merchants are also able to specify inventory for each of their stores. So, when a shopper searches for a product online and filters their results for "nearby," they're able to see which local merchants carry the product they want, and plan out where they want to purchase the product.
Again, this helps merchants be more discoverable to consumers who might use the internet during the research process, but aim to complete their shopping journey in-person. And for merchants who might be wary of taking on shipping, they can use their online presence to find local consumers who want to buy in person.
"Consumers are expressing even more interest in shopping their values," Ready said. "One of those values that has come to the surface is that consumers want to support small businesses and local businesses."
He encouraged retailers to make sure all their product information online is up to date so that consumers are accurately informed, whether on Google Merchant Center or their own website.
Don't sweat the big-box players
Though big-box retailers with robust e-commerce presences like Amazon, Target, and Walmart have fared better during the pandemic, Ready said consumers are interested in shopping brands that are new to them.
"We're seeing customers want to engage with more options," Ready said. According to a survey completed by Google/IPSOS over the summer, one-third of U.S. shoppers have purchased from a brand that's new to them during COVID.
It's up to the merchant to meet the consumer where they are this holiday season, by making sure they're present online. Even for small merchants who can't launch an entire e-commerce platform this season, making sure they're discoverable during the search phase could introduce them to new shoppers.
"The consumer wants to find you," Ready said. "No one really wants to live in a world where there's only one place to buy something,"