Google Snaps Up Pointy to Help Main Street Stores Get Online

Google has inked a deal to acquire 6-year-old Ireland-based firm Pointy, reportedly for US$163 million.

Pointy provides a $900 box with built-in cellular connectivity, which lets brick-and-mortar retailers list their stock online.

It plugs into the retailer’s barcode scanner and automatically obtains accurate product names and images for display on a Web page hosted by Pointy.

The box recognizes only standard UPC-type codes used by manufacturers.

A free Pointy app is available for retailers who already have a POS device from Lightspeed, Square, Vend, Liberty, WooPOS, BestRx, Cash RX or Clover.

“Over the past several years we’ve developed a very close partnership with Google,” Pointy cofounders Mark Cummins and Charles Bibby wrote in an online post. “By joining forces, we will be able to help people discover local stores and products on a much larger scale.”

Pointy’s “see what’s in store” feature, launched in partnership with Google, lets users display their full product catalog and live inventory information on a Google search page.

Retailers have to link their Pointy account to Google to take advantage of this feature.

Pointy has been one of Google’s key partners since the introduction of the “see what’s in store” feature a few years ago.

“We’re looking forward to working with Pointy to help even more local retailers bring their product inventory online,” said Peter Chane, senior director, local SMB products, at Google.

The Pointy Page

Pointy creates a unique Web page for each retailer with information for shoppers — address, directions, opening hours, description, and photo of the store.

The service is available for all product categories except clothing and fashion.

Retailers can change details on their Pointy page, which they access with a username and password. They also can mark products not for display, and correct mistakes about product names, descriptions, or pictures on the page.

Products that have not been scanned for a long time will be removed from a retailer’s Pointy page automatically. The duration depends on the product’s expected sales frequency, and the product can be displayed again by being re-scanned.

Pointy’s algorithms detect inventory and track product purchasing patterns to come up with an approximate stock count.

Taking On Amazon

Google’s purchase is “super smart,” remarked Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research. “They’re taking the friction away from having to digitize physical content for product catalogs.”

As a consequence, retailers “have better signal intelligence on what’s hot, what’s selling, what’s out of stock, and what could potentially sell,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Google would “like to counter the threat Amazon represents with AWS, and appear to be making a big retail play, effectively networking small retailers to counter the retail giant,” suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“eBay tried something similar, but this appears to address some of the inventory management issues eBay’s solution represented,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Google previously attempted to take on Amazon with Google Express, but that effort failed. Google shut down the online shopping service and merged it with a revamped version of Google Shopping.

Google Express had teamed up with large retailers, including Target and Walmart.

One reason for Google Express’ failure was that its partners had built out their own fulfillment capabilities for online orders. Another was that it had not invested in key areas like warehousing or logistics.

Impact of the Pointy Purchase

The purchase “gives Pointy stronger backing, but there’s an increased concern about what is happening with the information that Pointy collects, as Google’s business model is acquiring and selling information,” Enderle pointed out.

It will “give brick-and-mortar retailers who use Pointy more reach, but less privacy for them and their customers. For most, this will likely be a reasonable trade-off,” he said.

Retailers using Pointy will have improved forecasting capabilities and better data, Constellation’s Wang observed.

Google will continue working with other partners to expand its “see what’s in store” capability, Wang predicted. “The goal is to refine the algorithm and improve the precision of decisions.”

Brick-and-mortar retailers increasingly are investing in technology to remain competitive.

Retailers that do not have a tool like Pointy “will be at a massive disadvantage in managing cash flow, driving revenue, and creating better experiences,” Wang said.

Brick-and-mortar retailers that do not use Pointy probably will not find it more difficult to get listed on Google Search, because Google currently is facing an antitrust investigation, Enderle said. However, “once the investigation is over, I’d anticipate that pivot.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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