A retail tech start-up, NearSt, has partnered with Google to show online what is available in local stores, with around 60 bookshops signed up nationwide.
NearSt was founded three years ago by two former advertising executives, Max Kreijn and Nick Brackenbury (pictured), and focused on London but last month a partnership with Google enabled the venture to go nationwide.
Brackenbury told The Bookseller: “We launched it to help make more people aware of high street shops because it should be easier to get something three miles down the road than from a warehouse 300 miles away.”
Along with Kreijn, he developed a technology that connects to any retailer’s point of sale system, extracts the rough inventory data and shows in real time what shops offer locally and the price. NearSt works with wholesalers, primarily Gardners, to engage with independent stores and so access the shops’ inventories, Brackenbury said, which aligns with Google's focus on adding more local product availability directly into search results.
Brackenbury told The Bookseller: “We are using our technologies and the shops’ inventory so people can search directly. It is just about putting [the high street] front and centre. If you are looking for something online, then the in-store choices [on Google] are often curiously absent. Google want to make the search the best it can be, they heard we had expertise in local shops and so we can get engage with shops.”
The enterprise is rapidly expanding from its London base and is calling for as many stores as possible to join before Christmas, with a recent influx since the national roll-out.
"We work with about 60 shops across the UK now. In the last four to five weeks, when we went nationwide, we’ve had about another 20 to 25 come on board," he said. "We have a bookshop in Orkney, The Orcadian Bookshop, as well as London stores so literally we have the length and breadth of the country.”
Other stores who have signed up to the scheme include The Brick Lane Bookshop and Pages of Hackney in east London, The Old Hall Bookshop in Northamptonshire,, Gulliver's Bookshop in Dorset, and Tales on Moon Lane in south London.
The company offers a tiered payment system starting with the one-off setup fee of £199 which gets a bookshop's products automatically appearing as live searchable in-store inventory directly on their Google shop page as well as on NearSt.
For stores who want to actively promote their products to customers searching nearby, the upscaled NearSt Plus package starts from £2 per day. The shop's products then appear at the top of Google search for customers searching for those books nearby, along with information about the shop and how nearby it is. All shops who join NearSt get £100 worth of NearSt Plus for free in their first month.
Shops using NearSt Plus typically see 45,000 views of their books by local customers looking nearby each month. On average 500 potential customers then “interact” with the products, meaning a click-through to view the product where they then see a map, directions to the store, an option to call the store, and further details.
"Our estimate shows that for these bookstores which sign up, they get 50-100 extra customers coming in each month, and obviously it varies how much they will spend,” Brackenbury said.
NearSt has raised £1.3m since starting, and are now raising £2m to accelerate the rollout across the UK and launch in the US later in 2019 under the same setup.
When asked about the financial aspects of the partnership with Google, Brackenbury said: “I can't talk about specifics of the deal with Google itself, beyond saying there isn't a time limit on it.”
Brackenbury believes high street retail has a positive future and that online technology can help it thrive. “I think it’s a really exciting time in retail,” he said. “There is a lot of news about Amazon but when you see how through Google that how people can find things nearby, I think there is a bright future for shops.”
Gardners' head of business development, Nige Wyman, told The Bookseller: “We are thrilled to be in partnership with NearSt via our Gardlink Stock Control and Epos System as we feel this gives Independent booksellers the opportunity to use the power of the internet to bring people into their shops”
Nathalie Walton, global head of local shopping for Google Shopping, said: “NearSt has some fantastic technology which we are leveraging to make it as easy to shop locally as it is online. It gives small retailers the ability to compete effectively in the online world, without needing any of the technical and financial firepower of their online competitors.”
For more information, visit shops.near.st.