For the past several years, a variety of start-up companies have been working to bring real-time local product inventory data to the internet. In November of 2010, Google joined that effort with local product search.
Now, when you do a product search, Google will show you local store availability. Generally this will only include large retail chains (e.g. Target, Wal-Mart, etc.) but Google has mentioned in a blog post that it’s also going to make local product availability a feature of Place Pages:
When you provide Google with local product availability data, your Google Place Page will now automatically include a new section, ‘Popular products available at this store’, featuring five popular products along with price and local availability. For shoppers unfamiliar with your business, this section shows the types of products available in your store.
At this time, the majority of small or independent retailers do not have their product inventories in a state where they can be easily passed along to Google for integration on local Place Pages. This move by Google may give an additional incentive to do so. It is too early in the process to determine how this change will affect traffic in terms of increased visibility or SEO value.
Google already displays local store availability for many product searches integrated into search results, as seen in this example:
Other companies, such as eBay (Milo) and Wishpond are also working to bring local product inventory data online. As this data becomes more pervasive, consumers will become accustomed to searching online for local store inventory information. This may have a negative effect on e-commerce growth; if a product is locally available for a comparable price, customers may opt to pick it up rather than pay for shipping.