Shopatron Matches Products with Local Retailers

Add Shopatron to the list of local product inventory providers that are increasingly connecting the Internet to local store inventories. Shopatron is mentioned in this NY Times article (about buy online, pick up in store) but I completely failed to notice it at the time:

Now, a technology company that helps more than 400 manufacturers sell online, Shopatron, will help a manufacturer’s customers determine if local stores have a particular item in stock.

The service relies on a bidding system of sorts. Through Shopatron of San Luis Obispo, Calif., local merchants answer an online query from a customer who has visited a store and expressed an interest in buying, say, a specific running shoe. If the merchant carries that item, it will tell customers that through Shopatron, giving them the chance to pick it up immediately. (Customers who choose this option usually receive an e-mail response within a few hours.)

If no merchant responds, Shopatron will transfer the order to the nearest retailer that can ship the item to the buyer, but which is too far from the customer to offer an in-person pickup. As more retailers respond to order requests, Shopatron can better predict product availability at the time of the search.

I spoke to the company last Friday. As the description above suggests, Shopatron hosts manufacturer websites. It has over 400 manufacturer relationships and knows all the authorized retailers for those products all over the US. Thus it can identify sources of local inventory all over the country.

The system is run from the manufacturer websites (think channel conflict) and not on centralized shopping destinations or (for now) retailer sites. The customer goes through a typical e-commerce checkout process with a twist. Here’s an example from Brooks running shoes:

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Once I input my zip, the system will send out a notification to multiple retailers. They compete for the consumer’s business and more than one may respond. Shopatron keeps records of who does the best job at fulfillment (there’s an analogy here to FastCall411). Location will trump speed in most cases. In other words, if a “closer” retailer (to me) responds after another (but more distant) local retailer in the general area, the closer one gets the order all other things being equal.

The retailer is required to hold the product in question for a period of time and the consumer gets an email or SMS notification that the product is in and where he/she can go to buy it. It’s not real-time but almost; and I would argue the time lag is probably acceptable to most users.

The challenge is to educate consumers that this capability exists. The burden falls on manufacturers to do that and promote their sites as a sales channel (this is where the channel conflict comes in). But because the manufactures are ultimately handing the sale off to a dealer or retailer, the channel conflict isn’t quite the same as if they were just doing straight e-commerce from their sites.

Unlike “buy online, pick up in store” however, this system isn’t limited to big boxes. Small retailers can benefit here too. A local store that carries Brooks running shoes or a particular appliance or musical instrument can get the order just as readily as a big box retailer.

Shopatron has been around for roughly six years but instituted this new system last year. There are many additional and interesting directions this could go, including syndication of the data to third parties (and certainly mobile). Regardless, it’s further evidence that the future is not in e-commerce but the increasing linkage between the Internet and local store inventories.

3 Responses to “Shopatron Matches Products with Local Retailers”

  1. betterretail Says:

    I’ve read your article and the Shopatron website 3 times now and I still don’t get it.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    What don’t you get?

    Consumer goes to a manufacturer website: e.g., panasonic. They select a TV or other product. They go to check out and are asked for their email and zip code. The Shopatron system finds a local retailer that has the requested/desired item. The consumer is notified and goes to buy/pick up the item in the local retail store.

  3. betterretail Says:

    Got it!… thanks 🙂

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