Tuesday, October 31, 2006

ECMOD show reactions

The ECMOD conference took place at Earls Court last week, and I attended. The show is Europe's largest forum for the home shopping and multi-channel retail industry.

So what was I doing attending the event? We work at the other end of the spectrum - encouraging customers into retail stores rather than shopping online, or by mail order. Half of our user's time is spent at home however, browsing the internet, and the other half is spent travelling down to the store to pick up an item.

I was there talking with web developers (someone cringed when I used the term 'web developers' but in my opinion they should just accept what they are in most people's minds), and search engine optimization firms, who have relationships with retailers. The systems these people develop for online shopping are the systems which we link to.

The response was very encouraging to the concept of local shopping search in the UK.

Local shopping search saves our small shops?

Small retailers are under threat from the major chains in Britain, but local shopping search could level the playing field, and allow specialist services to continue to thrive.

From the Save Our Shops campaign, Hayling Island newsagent Nigel Swan, who represents the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, said ''It is also the worst-off in the community who are hardest hit when local shops close; elderly people and single mothers who cannot afford to travel and buy a whole week's shopping."

The problem is that it becomes much easier to say "let's go to the major chain" because it is the safest choice if you're not sure whether a shop will have an item or not. A local shopping search allows a very specialist item to be found in a local shop, and gives confidence that a trip to the retailer will be worthwhile before actually leaving.

Therefore, while our local shopping search does have major chains, we're very much in favour of providing a life-stream for specialist retailers, and we therefore support the campaign.

More information can be found from the Lancaster University Managment School.

The Evening Standard have also been running a campaign along these lines.

Search engine barriers to entry

One of the myths that I can dispell about developing search engines is that there is a massive barrier to entry when it comes to hardware.

Google have 100,000s of servers running their search engine, so that's what it takes to compete and enter the market - or so the argument goes. This couldn't be further from the truth.

This forgets that Google only need this number of servers to run their search because they have a vast number of people searching on the site. The actual volume of traffic starts small in any start-up, and builds up on a growth curve - usually allowing the start-up to ramp up the number of PCs required as the traffic grows. Each individual index is actually fairly small, and sits across a few hard-drives only.

This is another popular myth - the volume of data is so high that hundreds of PCs are required to begin a new engine. I challenge people to do the calculation; how many bytes does it take to store each web-page? How many web-pages are required for a useful service? You may be surprised.

What I can personally confirm is that the hardest part about bringing a search engine to market is not the hardware, but the software. 90% of the software can be finished in a short space of time, but the other 10% can take years to complete to a satisfactory level. This is the real barrier to entry.

The story behind our local shopping search engine goes back several years. You can keep in touch with the story on this blog.

Local shopping search owned by the community

Quite literally, in fact. We know that we don't have every shop in Britain on our local shopping search - though we do have many major chains - see below - so it is up to you to turn this into the service you'll be using every day, and bring on board your favourite local shops. We're starting a new program called the Retail Referral Royalty (or triple R!) program:- where any member of the public can refer our service to retailers, and when the retailers confirm the people responsible for getting them involved with AskTheLocal!, then these people earn ongoing royalty from revenues related to these retailers.

Listing product information onto AskTheLocal! is free for retailers, but there are currently pay-per-click and pay for per-for-performance options offered on AskTheLocal!. And it's these current options (as well as future options) that can earn the Triple R! members ongoing royalty.

Our current pay-per-click options are: (1) a check-product-availability link and (2) a reserve-this-item link. The check-product-availability link encourages, and will almost guarantee a sale from their local shop, provided the product is in stock, so it is an effective means of increasing sales. Likewise with the reserve-this-item link.

Our current pay-for-permance option deals with vouchers and discount coupons. AskTheLocal! users, for example, can print-out or write down coupon codes when buying a particular product in a participating retailer's shop. And there is nothing like a discount to encourage people to buy something. Using these discount coupons can help retailers encourage purchases as well as determine the effectiveness of AskTheLocal! at creating offline purchases.

The retailer earns, we earn, and you as a referrer earns, even if you only convinced the retailer to add free product information initially, and the retailer months or years later generates leads with AskTheLocal!'s pay-per-click or pay-for-performance options.

Therefore, you're welcome to start approaching retailers with this white paper on local shopping search. At this stage make sure the retailer mentions your name when they provide their data to us. Information on what data they need to add is available on the retailers page.

Keep watching this space for more formalised arrangements, and selling tips.

Who can you approach? Local individual shops or chains. Here is a current list of retailers on the site, so these people are already on-board and it is best to choose others:

Marks and Spencer
Harrods (pending release)
Hamleys (pending release)
John Lewis
Jessops (pending release)
The Entertainer

Note: we don't provide food items on our site.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Logo thoughts

This is Granny - we've discovered that people either love her or hate her. What's your opinion? Do we keep her as our logo?


The UK's first local shopping search.