Milo.com and Google Products search store shelves
New tools for just-in-time shoppers find the things you need when you don't have time to wait for delivery.
Local product search company Milo.com is upgrading its service with features made for holiday shopping procrastinators like me: If you're looking to buy a product in a given category, it will tell you what store near you has what in the category in stock. So you can drive down to the place and buy the thing you want right away.
Let's stipulate that the smart thing to do is to plan ahead and buy online, where prices are better, and you often can get free shipping, and you can skip the sales tax. Let's also understand that the world is full of people like me (procrastinators), people who don't like to wait for anything (impulse buyers), and, of course, the feelers, who need to touch a product before they buy it. Milo is for all of them and us.
Currently, Milo is a good tool for finding a specific product near you (for example, the Canon S90). The new feature, rolling out Wednesday, lets you search for a whole category (like "Netbooks") to see what's where. You can also now set price alerts, making it possible to know exactly when you should hop in your car to get the product you're looking for at the price you want.
Milo competes with Google Products' just-launched feature that will also locate products near you. However, Milo CEO Jack Abraham took pains to point out to me that Google has not, to date, been successful with structured search, especially in commerce. The search giant's previous foray in retail, Froogle, misfired. Google Products is better, though.
Abraham's comment to me from an interview a few days before the Google Products announcement, that "Google and Microsoft will be extremely interested in acquiring this," still rings true. Google does need help in shopping services. Microsoft has also shown an interest in acquiring its way into consumer commerce, recently by buying services like the air fare prediction service, Farecast.
Abraham also pointed out that while Milo has deep, real-time inventory data from a number of large retail chains, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target, Nordstrom, and others, Google says it is testing the waters with Best Buy data. However, using the Google service reveals in-store data feeds from other chains as well.
In my testing of the two products, I had a better experience with Milo than Google when it came to in-stock information. But Google did a superior job finding products overall.
Google did a better job of deciphering my queries to find what I was looking for. It also found more stores that carried those products. However, Milo knew who actually had the products it found. When Google would tell me, "call for availability," Milo would actually tell me if products were in stock. In terms of utility, I'd rate the services about even. Update: A Google spokesperson reminds me that the new Google Product Search "does not guarantee local availability," although that feature is coming in 2010.
Milo's Abraham says he'd like to layer in data from smaller stores than just the big chains. The company may build a module for hooking into Quickbooks Point of Sales for that.
Milo can make money by tapping into in-store pickup programs (where the customer pays for the product online, and collects it from a local store). Abraham is also looking at a coupon program that would connect the experience of finding a product online to the act of picking it up in a retail store.
One feature I'd like to see: A mashup with traffic data that tells me not just which stores near me have the product I'm looking for, but which one is closest to me in terms of driving time.
Abraham told me Milo's traffic is growing extremely quickly, at 70 percent month over month, and that the company is taking the "beta" label off its service Wednesday as well. But while Milo has solid service and a start-up's nimbleness and focus, it also now has a scary new competitor. Milo's got to extend on its product quickly to keep it ahead of Google. "I always expected Google to do this eventually," Abraham told me after the Google Products announcement. "I just didn't expect it to come yesterday."
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