Home Blog ‘Near Me’ Searches Up Dramatically as Online Shoppers Still Look to Buy Local


Brick-and-mortar businesses who have been fighting off Amazon for years found themselves overwhelmed by local customers looking for the same ease in online shopping experiences at the local level due to the pandemic. Even when it was not necessarily safe (or in many cases, permitted) to shop in-store, customers sought out ways to keep spending their dollars at the local level. According to Google, ‘near me’ searches grew more than 100% in 2020 over the year before.

What’s more, a recent Nextdoor survey found that 72% of consumers say they will frequent local businesses more since experiencing the pandemic.

How can your brand tap into this intent to spend locally while meeting the evolving expectations and needs of pandemic-weary consumers?

In this post, we’ll examine a few aspects of this latest rise in ‘near me’ searches, what it means for multi-location brands, and how you can tap into the heightened local shopping intent to convert more online searchers to customers.

Local Retail & Grocery Visits Down by Double-Digits: Google

Google is sharing aggregated, anonymized insights from products such as Google Maps in an interesting set of insights called Community Mobility Reports. You have the ability to search by country or region and download a PDF that illustrates the real-world change in visits to local grocery stores, retail stores, and workplaces.

These insights reveal that as of January 21, 2021:

  • -26% less time than usual is being spent at retail & recreation locations such as restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, theme parks, museums, libraries, and movie theaters across the USA.
  • -12% less time spent at the grocery store & pharmacy locations.
  • -34% less time spent at workplaces.

The difference is even more striking in Canada, where retail and recreation visits are down 44%, grocery and pharmacy 17%, and workplaces 41%. Consumers in Canada and the US are spending 17% and 12% more time at home, respectively.

Google notes, “These reports show how visits and length of stay at different places change compared to a baseline. We calculate these changes using the same kind of aggregated and anonymized data used to show popular times for places in Google Maps. Changes for each day are compared to a baseline value for that day of the week.”

Interestingly, Google has also noted in its research that not only are service expectations crossing over from e-commerce experiences such as Amazon but from one category cross to another, as well. The example cited by Lucy Sinclair, EMEA director of the insights team at Google, is for niche doorstep delivery asks such as ‘compost delivery.’ 

After all, if you can get your groceries delivered, why not your yard and garden supplies, as well? Consumers are driving brands of all kinds to innovate in this way.

Local Consumers Want to Believe In & Support Local Business

Widespread Coronavirus shutdowns inspired a “great pause” in which people began to think more deeply about where their everyday goods come from—and who provides them. As Josh Levinson, a Maryland retail franchise owner, told RetailWire, “Everyone likes a local business and wants local businesses to survive. They inherently believe they are important to a community and give a community character.”

Yet while it is true that the ‘shop local’ mantra has surged in a big way, customers are not entirely willing to visit stores in person. Buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS), contactless pickup and delivery, and online appointments have all become integral to the local shopping experience. 

While online shopping spending increased 45% worldwide (36% in the US) YoY in the first two weeks of December 2020, this includes a 52% increase in revenue for retailers that offered curbside pickup, drive-thru, and in-store pickup options. 

Local brands are now finding themselves having to balance the consumers’ desire for shopping locally with living up to the experiences consumers have come to expect in their transactions with online-first and online-only brands. Amazon has set the standard for seamless, intuitive online shopping, from product search and discovery through comparison to convenient payment and order fulfillment options.  

Bringing It Together: Tips for Brands to Connect at the Local Level

Meeting the needs of local consumers in this never-before-seen state of heightened safety conscientiousness, uncertainty, and sheer boredom requires that your brand’s locations appear prominently when and where consumers are looking for products and services like yours. 

  • Optimize all available sections and fields in your brand’s GMB profiles for each location.
  • Security of free delivery (57%) and availability of contactless delivery/curbside pickup (56%) were the top factors consumers recommended local retailers use to drive business in a ZypMedia survey. Use all of the Google My Business attributes available to your business category to highlight these fulfillment methods where they are available.
  • Audit your brand’s local search presence. According to LSA Insider, 85%-95% of consumer engagement for brands now happens through location assets, like local pages and listings. An audit will help you identify opportunities to rank these valuable assets higher—and catch errors that could be keeping your brand from appearing in search at all.
  • Stay on top of emerging trends in local consumer behavior. Ensure that your target keywords, Local Page content, GMB photos and videos, Google Posts, and other local content reflect your understanding of the changing needs of each local audience.
  • Be aware of new and updated search engine results page (SERP) and local listings features (such as People Also Ask in Google search results, for example) that can help differentiate your brand from local competitors.

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