Way back in 1996, before I left Wired and started the Standard, my wife and I had a little brainstorming session. I thought it’d be really cool if we started a website where local merchants could list their wares, so folks could check to see if a local business had what they were looking for before going down to the store. We decided against the business, but I’ve remained fascinated by this concept. It just seems to make sense, that at some point you will be able to check into the inventory of your local stores to see if what you want is there, and even reserve it or have it delivered to you.
A new search engine is now launching that promises to bring part of this concept to the world. Called StepUp.com, it’s “A unique new web tool that helps shoppers find products locally.”
From their release: Now, for the first time, the Internet’s 80 million web shoppers can easily find popular retail products near their current location and avoid waiting for online purchases to arrive by mail. In addition, StepUp.com offers merchants a simple and economical way (free, for a limited time) to easily list their products online, driving web shoppers to their physical locations. StepUp.com combines the benefits of online shopping with local commerce, providing consumers and local merchants a powerful new tool.
“We founded StepUp.com because local shopping is broken, and our mission is to fix it. Currently, half of the 80 million web shoppers in the U.S. prefer to purchase offline, but the Yellow Pages, the most-used local shopping resource, only list generic categories and force customers to call around in order to find specific products. This makes local shopping tedious at best,” said Kendall Fargo, President and CEO of StepUp.com. “At the same time, businesses have been frustrated trying to promote their local store inventory to the growing number of online shoppers. For those merchants, we developed simple patent-pending Internet sales tools, making it easy for them to drive new ‘walk-in’ business from local customers who use the web.”
StepUp.com’s sales tools include a client that automatically uploads inventory information continually from QuickBooks, the leading financial management product from Intuit Inc., so businesses have a hands-off way to drive sales from Internet shoppers even if they do not currently have a web presence. Businesses can easily register as member stores and will be able to begin merchandising their products immediately. For a limited time, StepUp.com is allowing businesses to sign up as charter member stores for free, allowing them to merchandise their products without paying any product listing fees.
Tip o the hat: Gary.
UPDATE: Clickz has a review here.
8 thoughts on “New Twist on Local Search Engine”
That’s the most interesting news in search futures that I’ve seen in a long time. Local SCM tying into search. If we search marketing technology providers can take Inventory as a data feed in conjunction with price/ROI data from paid search campaigns, we’ll be able to manage local merchants’ online marketing spend cognizant of the real-time value of local inventory – and you gotta believe users will find value in that.
Those of us SEMs with feed building/management/opti experience need to help folks like stepup educate local merchants on this – hopefully via relationships with local merchant aggregators.
The challenge, as witnessed by the limited content of this beta, will be in actually building and monetizing enough *independent* local merchant product pages to make the effort worthwhile. Otherwise, we’ll all be working with the Walmarts (mpst of us are already doing so on the Paid Inclusion side) and not the smaller venues, which falls short of the promise on the user experience side…
I’m not 100% sure if this is a real first, but its the first time that I’ve read a platform that integrates data directly from a accounting package – something that every business requires, especially SME’s.
Integrating Intuit into your backend is a very clever strategy – how many “potential” customers then!! Hats of to these guys. Local is becomming a real battleground, interesting……
Now forgive me if I’m jumping to the wrong conclusions here, but with reference to the above posts, doesn’t the technology here actually remove the requirment for a SEO to build a feed for you?
In fact does this model indeed signal a futher change in the fortume of the SEO and futher power into the hands of “Jo Public”??
Referencing the above post:
There has never been a “requirement” that SEMs build feeds – the market (merchants and search engine publishers both) has simply decided it makes more sense for SEMs to do so…happily for those who do it well 😉
The value-add of an SEM feed-build has never been that merchants can’t build a feed – they just struggle to do so elegantly, to update it consistently, to optimize listings and links within it against established rules sets based on years of experience data mining millions of search queries through to sales, etc etc etc.
Does the SME merchant need or want this level of service? Depends on the SME merchant’s goal – and their savvy. Of course, if local directory or related business service providers cuts deals with SEMs, and market comprehensive turnkey packages, the SME will likely end up using it anyhow…
My gut is that there will always be room for marketing service providers who specialize in technology at the local level, based on the relative lack of technical resources of the merchants.
I would also expect StepUp to integrate pay per call…for the same reason…
I fully agree that there will always be a role for the professional marketeer, both for pure skill and efficient service (lets face it life is tough enough for a small company without worrying about a onlne strategy.)
I believe though that if you take a 30,000 ft view of the situaton, you might understand were I’m coming from. For years the like’s of GoTo et al, were benchmarking against the ARPU that offline directories were making (your typical advert in the Yellow pages.)
Now no company needed a SEM to place an advert in the Yellow pages, so your element of the value chain could be under attack long term.
You services & marketing are critical now in terms of maturing the market – but I do feel that eventually the industry will bite the hand thats been feeding it.
I’m not in the search/media/marketing business like you and the previous commenters seem to be. I find StepUp.com to be an interesting concept. I’d be right there searching for products I want to be at a local store — if StepUp worked.
Does StepUp.com work? Today — hell, no!
I entered my city, state, and zip code. Then I searched for lawn bags. You know, the 40 gallon (or so) black bags you dump your lawn cuttings into. StepUp found four types of lawn furniture and tents available at 2 K-Marts, 11 and 21 miles away. I know I can get these lawn bags at Lowes, Home Depot, and grociery stores within 3 miles of home. Further, the K-Mart indicated to be 11 miles away is actually 18 miles off; the 21 mile away K-Mart is at least 30 miles from my home. I’m sure I could find those items that were shown at the K-Mart just 6 miles away and, further, that there are ata leat 6 other K-Marts closer than the one shown as 21 miles from me.
Verdict: Product selection was irrelevant. Store selection was incomplete.
Test #2: Wine (generic)
StepUp.com found me two Wine Cellars for $879.99 at two different Best Buys. Also, two Freestanding Gas Ranges at the same Best Buys for $559.99. And two Swivel TV Stands for 36″ TVs, $149.99 at the same stores.
I was hoping for an $8 -$20 bottle of wine at a local grocery or liquor store.
Verdict: Product selection: Illogical (worst than irrelevant). Store selection: ‘F’. Best Buy does not sell wine.
Test #3: Envelopes. “There were no items matching your search.”
What’s wrong with StepUp is obvious. Too few stores. Horribly inadequate inventory.
StepUp has signed up a few national chains with local stores. But it’s missing critical merchants. Wal-Mart. Office Depot (or Staples). There is NO really local merchant content. Maybe that’s to be expected in the boonies, but not in the Dallas area.
Prognosis: “Guarded”. Granted that it’s a beta site right now, but their money is flowing out. If they don’t hit ‘critical mass’ of local merchants and merchandise within three months, I think it will be a dead site. Even the local shopping malls have their own sites with links to sites operated by all of their tenant stores. THAT is local shopping, not StepUp.com.
Hi, Jon — long time since MacWEEK! For years I’ve been evangelizing the concept of a “shop local” browser plugin at the consumer end that would recognize searches at major web stores and recommend local or more values-compliant alternative sources and/or products (i.e. greener and/or local economy-boosting, although this could also be useful as an index of boycotts you endorse).
For example, lots of my neighbors even living here in Berkeley Cohousing buy books from Amazon, while similar selection and an affiliate program is available from Cody’s (local independent bookstore) via web, PLUS they offer free bicycle (zero-emissions, zero-congestion) delivery via Pedal Express, in as little as a couple of hours.
There’s also plenty of places locally, such as Urban Ore, with great deals on recycled and re-used items, not to mention a great inventory free and darned cheap on Craig’s List. if we can prevent the purchase of a new item AND keep an old item out of a landfill, we’ve suddenly got a much-more-efficient local economy which can be much more competitive.
This combination of local alternative/education plus local fast delivery plus values alignment can be very attractive… I’d expect to see something like this come out of Yahoo! Local, via the online stores’ inventory management. It seems like the real potential comes from inventory management a la OpenTable with local restaurants and their seats.Lots of municipalities/counties/tax districts would be well served by creating regional “shop local” sites or feeds for such a tool that helped them recapture the otherwise-lost sales tax revenue or even just by supplying the necessary merchant-education component Kirby describes above.
While the problem stepup.com is trying to solve is very difficult, it can also be approached in an easier manner. A manufacturer of a product is usually able to track what products are distributed where; thus they should be able to provide the consumer with information on where to buy the product.
For example, the Ben and Jerry’s web site provides accurate information on which flavors can be purchased at which store. It actually works (though the interface is awful)–I was searching for a flavor that I haven’t been able to find at my usual stores, and it turns out that only two stores within 20 miles of me carried it. I went to one of those stores and found the flavor.