Musings on Business and Tech

A Wish and a Prediction

I have a problem. I often can’t figure out what store to go to to buy certain things. I find this especially difficult in Manhattan, where we don’t have those stores that carry everything. I still don’t really know where to buy an umbrella, so now I just get them online.

I have another problem. I hate it when something is out of stock. I would love it if I could save myself a trip to a store by knowing whether something was out of stock beforehand. And calling the place doesn’t always work. A lot of stores don’t exactly have a firm grasp on their realtime inventory.

Okay, so, here’s the wish: I want an app that will show me all the stores near me that not only carry a particular product, but also let me sort by price and filter by availability. Right now with things like Yelp or Google’s recently-announced “Near Me Now,” I can search for types of stores near me, but I can’t search for products near me. I’d like this to be really specific, too, not just enabling a search for “umbrellas” near me, but, for example “Totes umbrellas” near me.

I realize this is not a trivial task, as it would entail mining tons of inventory data from an insane number of stores, many of which aren’t even tracking their inventory, and those that do are using a wide variety of systems. But here’s where the prediction comes in: this would be a perfect challenge for a company like Google to take on (I mean, hey, they mapped the freaking¬†Earth, Moon and Mars already; no job is too big for them.)

The way I envision it is that Google could offer free point-of-sale and inventory tracking systems to retail businesses. The system would be good at importing legacy data and integrating with accounting systems like Quickbooks and SAP. Once it got deep enough penetration with this (and it would if Google offered it for free), it could then begin to mine the data that was coming in at these points-of-sale. At that point Google could then integrate this inventory data into their product search and near-me-now applications, and in a few heartbeats basically own this space. They would then monetize this by serving up targeted and localized ads based on the product an end user searches for.

The question isn’t whether or not someone will do this. The question is who will do it, and how soon.