Inventory is a tricky problem for retailers, especially small ones. Ordering too much of an item that doesn’t sell is an expensive mistake, but running out of popular products also loses money and risks alienating customers. A new tool by Google, called Shopping Insights, might help businesses by showing what stuff people in their cities are searching for the most.
Launched in beta at WSJDLive just in time for the holiday rush, Shopping Insights breaks down search data by products, cities, and devices, and illustrates it in heat maps. It also shows data from cities targeted by AdWords, and categorizes searches by devices, which is helpful for fine-tuning online campaigns.
Google says that even though 87 percent of shoppers research products online, the majority—92 percent—of purchases are still done at brick-and-mortar stores. Shopping Insights can help retailers plan what to stock in different locations by showing them which items are trending by city. For example, Minions and Star Wars characters will both be popular this Halloween, with Shopping Insights’ data indicating that Minions costumes have a slight edge nationwide. Star Wars costumes are three times more popular in Berkeley, CA, however, while Minions take the lead in Madison, WI, another college town.
Shopping Insights works best when tracking major trends. The beta version currently includes data for the 5,000 most popular products on Google Shopping between April 2014 and September 2015 (in addition to Minions and Star Wars costumes, these include gaming consoles, Birkenstock sandals, Disney Vans, and emoji joggers, which were endemic in New York City last year but mercifully have yet to invade the West Coast, at least according to Shopping Insights).
While that should cover most holiday shopping lists, it means Shopping Insights still isn’t particularly helpful for sellers of products that are considered relatively niche but still in demand, especially as gifts (like the limited edition sets many cosmetic companies put out for the holidays). Furthermore, while Shopping Insights can give businesses a sense of what their customers are interested in, it still can’t predict what they will actually buy. Retailers will have to continue relying on their own analysis and guesswork for that.