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Could Google’s Digital Garage provide a catalyst for bricks and mortar retailers?

Cash register Digital Garage image.
Kerching…? Could Google’s Digital Garage be a shot in the arm for ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers? Image by Alexander Chaikin (via Shutterstock).

How many times is internet shopping blamed for killing off the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailer? Google thinks the above argument is old hat and believes internet shopping can coexist alongside the High Street or retail park. Their Digital Garage scheme aims to bridge the divide.

Changes in shopping trends

Over the last fifty years, there has been a shift towards retail parks and fewer trips to local shops. In the last five years, the trend seems to be favouring smaller town centres (but parking charges may stunt their growth). It is claimed that fewer people like waiting at checkouts, or waiting for parcels compared with previous years. Thanks to changes in Google’s search results (favouring localised SEO results for local businesses), the search giant thinks people are likely to try smaller retail traders. This is consistent with more shoppers eschewing big box superstores, in favour of convenience stores.

Time pressures are a great factor behind the societal change, as much as improved mobile internet connections. This wasn’t lost on Google’s Head of Retail, Jamie Murray Wells. In The Daily Telegraph (01 October 2016), he said: “It’s hard to imagine a time when we weren’t looking for a review when you book a table in a restaurant or buy something online.

“We believe retailers have a huge opportunity online. The web can be a front door for local shops as well as the big retailers.”

His reason, and inspiration behind the Digital Garage projects, is the rise of ‘near me’ searches. With a mobile device, s/he can find (for example) their nearest franchised American-style sandwich shop. He or she is presented with several options and looks at the customer ratings. Therefore, s/he may opt for the Deansgate branch over the Cross Street one for convenience, or the latter one for speedier service.

At one time, reviews were a bargaining tool for computer games (in the 8-bit magazines of old like Zzap! 64 or Nintendo Power) or recorded music. The choice of our next laptop or flatscreen TV is influenced by reviews. Nowadays, choosing one bakery over another is inspired by a simple five-star rating or any customer’s experience of the establishments.

Could Britain be a nation of digital savvy shopkeepers?

Product reviews carry a lot of weight in the world of online shopping. They could move us towards choosing a local tradesperson over one from a nationwide franchise. According to Jamie Murray Wells, there is four to one ratio between shoppers purchasing their items at bricks and mortar premises compared with mobile purchases. Retailers, thanks to Google’s Digital Garage, aims to bridge the divide by making shopkeepers more digital savvy. The good thing is, all of the Digital Garage’s courses are free.

The courses are aimed at anyone who wishes to improve their digital marketing skills. So far, Google has 23 subjects in its Topic Library, with subjects including The Online Opportunity, Get Noticed With Social Media, and Sell More Online. Each subject has a set number of lessons. On completion of each lesson and subject area, badges are unlocked, adding an element of gamification into the mix. After completing all 23 subjects, you get a certificate which is backed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. This is download onto your machine for saving and printing.

Though the Digital Garage distance learning courses are online only, there is a chance to see fellow learners at a selection of seminars. These include training courses and 1-to-1 mentoring sessions. They take place in pop-up offices. A pop-up office at Leeds opened on the 15 July 2015, the very first Digital Garage.

At a nationwide level, Digital Garage has the backing of Business is Great Britain (HM Government). Plus selected local authorities where workshops have taken place (for example, Birmingham City Council), and similar bodies like the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership.

How local SEO is changing the way we shop

It is clear that local SEO is helping to change our retail landscape. As Google’s ‘near me’ listings include opening times, it makes for fewer wasted journeys. It takes the pain out of getting lost and wondering where the nearest bus stop or supermarket is. Not least the fact you can plan your journeys with ease via Google Maps.

We at Net Sixty Six are impressed with Google’s direction of travel. Local SEO, thanks to Google’s ‘near me’ approach, makes life easier for anyone seeking local tradespeople, restaurants, and other services.

Plus, Google’s ‘near me’ approach is fantastic if you’re in a town you are unfamiliar with, which is a good thing.

Net Sixty Six SEO, 04 October 2016