The Way Things Oughta Work #1: Local Product Availability

This is the first in what may be an ongoing series of posts (depending on time availability and levels of motivation) about things that are broken or should be improved in the powersports industry. If you have any ideas about something that really needs to be fixed or could be done better, let me know.

This post is going to cover the issue of local search results for powersports products and ask the question:

“Why is our industry not doing more to help the local retailers when it comes to online product/shopping searches?”

A week or so ago I was at the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Francisco and after attending a few sessions on local search and the use of things like QR codes and Near Field Communication, I decided to write this and see if I could shake things up a little bit in our industry.

First, consider this staggering statistic… According to a study done by BIA/Kelsey nearly all consumers (97%) now use online media to shop locally. That’s an amazing stat and seems to be right on for our industry, where most enthusiasts hit Google for research about powersports products and see those shopping results sitting right there with all the rest of the little blue links. The “problem” is that all those shopping results lead to the mega e-commerce players and not the mom-’n-pop, brick and mortar dealers and retailers that make up the backbone of our industry.

Next, consider what is assumed to be an absolute truism in our industry:

“The entire powersports industry, up and down the supply chain, has a vested interest in, and actively attempts to support, the local dealership or powersports retailer.”

In my years in this industry I’ve heard things to this effect echoed over and over… This OEM, or that OEM, or this distributor or that distributor, will swear up and down that they are 100% behind supporting, nurturing, even protecting the mom-n-pop, local dealer.

I’ve got a great idea about a way that they can demonstrate this and put their money where their mouth is. Help the local retailers sell more product to people shopping online by leveraging the technical infrastructure that already exists! Now’s the time for the folks at the top of the food chain to support the retailers at the bottom that provide the very framework that makes our entire industry possible.

Here’s my idea by way of an example:

Spike is leafing through the latest issue of his favorite motorcycle magazine. He comes across a full page ad for a new helmet from BrainBucketz, The DirtLid Ultra. As part of the ad’s design, there’s a small QR code in the bottom corner. Now it just so happens that Spike needs a new helmet and it turns out that like a lot of people these days, he’s got a smarthone with the ability to scan that code.Spike scans the code and it brings up a Google Shopping search for the DirtLid Ultra with pictures, descriptions, and prices for the DirtLid. Now here’s the kicker… Google “knows” where Spike is physically located at that moment (or is fairly close based on things like IP location technology or app provided GPS data) and is able to offer “local” results so that Spike can find shops close to him that have the product he shopping for. All Google needs is the product information and data on local availability.

Spike is able to see that the dealer about 3 miles away from him has the DirtLid in stock and at a price that’s in line with the online only stores so off he goes to buy a new helmet.

Ta Da! That’s the way things should be working in our industry right now. Unfortunately they don’t work anywhere close to this… Right now all those online searches are leading to sales by the large e-tailers pretty much exclusively and the local mom-and-pop shops that make up the backbone of our industry are left out in the cold…

Here’s how things should be working to enable a more robust sales channel that integrates online searches with locally supported retail sales:

Step #1: BrainBucketz makes available product merchandising data about it’s products. This includes things like product images, product descriptions, MSRP, etc. This data is made available in industry standard formats and may be administered, stored, managed, or transmitted by a 3rd party data aggregator/manager.

Step #2: The data aggregator makes this data available to Google to use as the fodder for the product search results.

Step #3: The local dealer sets up a Google Merchant Account (which in their profile has location information) and ties the product data in their Dealer Management System (i.e. availability, price, etc.) to this Google account as well as to their website. Better yet, the 3rd party firms that provide turn-key websites could set this all up for the dealers as part of their product offerings.

Step #4: Shopper performs a product search or follows a link embedded in product advertising (QR code in a magazine, etc.), sees the local dealer’s information, clicks the link and is brought to the product page on the dealer’s website where they can place an online order for the product and arrange in-store pickup.

That’s it… It’s that simple. And the good news is that ALL technology bits and pieces already exist! It’s all just sitting there waiting to be put together. With a minimal amount of effort this system could be up and running in our industry within months.

So why hasn’t it happened yet?

I think it’s mostly because the product suppliers and technology solution providers in our industry are either not forward thinking enough to want to do something like this (possible) or they are just lazy and don’t really care where the sale comes from (highly probable). All the chatter about wanting to support the dealers is all well and good as long as it involves zero effort on their part beyond some lackadaisical M.A.P. enforcement efforts.

So how do we get it to work? Simple… Start bugging the hell out of the suppliers and technology solution providers in our industry on a daily basis… Do it.

Start right now…

Pick up the phone and start calling or start emailing every supplier of the products you sell and demand that they start making their product data available to the major search engines and other shopping services online.

I’m sure they will complain that it’s too much work, can’t be done, all the pieces aren’t there, no one wants it, etc. In case they do, consider this me preemptivly calling B.S.

If they don’t or won’t do it, it’s because:

  1. they’re lazy
  2. there’s another economic incentive for them not to do it that outweighs “supporting” the dealer channel (pressure/pushback from the large e-commerce guys maybe?).

Make daily (hell, make it hourly) calls and send emails to your DMS and website providers and demand that they start interfacing with the sources of data and the search engines so that you can get a swipe at all that web-initiated shopping activity that you are losing out on right now.

The DMS guys (ADP/Lightspeed, etc.) need to be involved because folks like Google need near real time info on things like stock amounts and price to enable products to be in the shopping search.

The website guys (i.e. PSN, 50 Below, etc.) need to be involved because the websites need to have real information on them when people link to them from the search results.

If you, the body of this industry, do not start demanding this now, it will never happen. There’s almost zero interest or motivation on the part of the manufacturers, suppliers, or technology providers to do this on their own. The folks that make the products or distribute the products are perfectly happy to make the online sale now to the mega e-commerce retailers that are grabbing all that business right now.

I think this is a good idea all the way around. If you disagree, please tell me where I’m wrong.

It makes the supply chain more efficient (less E&O inventory at dealers/retailers), it will minimize rotational returns to the distributors, it will remove discount pressure that results because of old inventory in the system, and it makes the physical retail channel more profitable.

I also think it’s good for the consumer because they can build on their relationship with a local dealer.

About the only people this is not good for is the large e-commerce giants as a lot of the online sales they make will be handled by local dealers. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that. I doubt you will either.

Unfortunately, as far as any central unifying leadership goes, I’m afraid we’re on our own (well, other than folks like me agitating things).

The M.I.C. is worthless when it comes to this kind of thing as their DOA PSP initiative proved. The last bit of news on their official site  is from 2009. An eternity ago in the day and age of Twitter, Facebook, and Google.

There is no worthwhile dealership focused trade or advocacy organization to bring this about and the trade press (which is bought and paid for by the suppliers) in our industry is coughing out its final death rattle.

It’s only going to happen as a grass-roots effort pushed, prodded, and coerced from the bottom up.

That’s you. Make it happen.

Please leave your comments, ideas, suggestion, and criticisms of this idea below. I really think that my idea could have a major impact on strengthening our industry from the bottom up, but it needs us all to get involved.


UPDATE:

Here’s another post on Powersports Business’ blog about QR codes that offers a few other thoughts.
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3 comments ↓

#1 Steven Ertle on 08.31.11 at 12:14 pm

Right on the money. Im starting today and will recrute as many dealers as i can.

#2 Bobby on 09.01.11 at 5:59 am

Hey Todd, As always, very good article but the best part is its good to see you WRITING again! Bobby

#3 Mike Jackson on 09.02.11 at 4:41 pm

Todd, Love it – my website http://www.motorcycledealer.com allows dealers to upload their inventory (Part Number & Qty) and then we merge that with the data we have from suppliers and push to google merchant – thus providing the local feed you are talking about. Now if we can get dealers to figure out how to export their inventory to a CSV; and suppliers to figure out how to name images with their Part Number we can push everything out there!

Keep up the good fight – eventually we’ll either get ran over or rewarded.

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