Mobile customers want brands to be more like Uber and Airbnb when they shop locally

- Updated

By Brian Solis

Have you ever searched for a restaurant, store, or venue and added the words “near me” to your query?

When you do, it reveals a strong signal of not just location, but also intent that help brands understand how to deliver value in critical moments of opportunity. But, not long ago, our searches used to include more specific qualifiers such as cities, zip codes, and neighborhoods. Now we’re going through yet another iteration of the mobile search. The question is, is your brand keeping up?

Mobile devices and technology are driving local search to evolve rapidly and incessantly. Nowadays, we don’t bother adding location specifics to our search, we just assume that our location is a known factor.

When exactly did that happen? The answer is irrelevant. It happened. Also, things are still evolving. So, what’s the latest trend? Google recently discovered that “near me” has now expanded beyond places to include things to buy. For example, what to buy “near me,” is now a significant and growing factor in decision-making.

Why is this important? This new behavior represents a shift from searching for a place to go to now include things to buy. Historically, “near me” used to be primarily to find places such as, “Thai restaurant near me,” “hair salon near me,” and “gas station near me.” But now, Google has observed a rise in people searching for very specific things “near me,” for example, “cowboy boots near me,” “rolled ice cream near me,” or “tarragon near me.”

Ain’t no lie, mobile consumers want to buy, buy, buy

Contrary to popular headlines, not every digital consumer purchase needs to lean toward an online site whose name is associated with a rainforest. Many times, customers want to buy locally, and they just need help finding what’s near them now. This is an opportunity for brands to differentiate and deliver value that said rainforest cannot offer in these moments.

Customers aren’t blindly searching for products, services, or experiences. They do so with intent. Whether it’s seeking ideas, filtering options, narrowing prices or deals, customers are often looking to play out this journey from mobile devices to local businesses. They just need help.

In its most recent research, Google has learned that in addition to “near me,” mobile searches that include a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” have skyrocketed by more than 500% in the last two years. This indicates that beyond finding nearby places to go, it’s now also about finding specific things locally. For example, “where can I buy Unicorn Lucky Charms near me” or “where to buy Ramune near me.”

Customers are expecting tech to find places near them to get what they need. This is also true for a growing number of important transactions across every product category. For instance, Google found that car-dealer related searches with “near me” grew 200% in the last two years. Also, Google discovered that dress-related “near me” mobile searches jumped 600% in the same timeframe.

Consumers want to buy and they want to do it… now!

Consumers are not only more connected and informed, but they also move faster, become more discerning, demanding, and impatient. As a result, they become immune to traditional marketing and seek experiences that are more familiar to their favorite apps and services.

I lovingly refer to modern customers as accidental narcissists. I say accidental because I don’t believe they set out to become so. Everything on their smartphones is conditioning them to expect that they can get whatever they want, right now. Whether it’s an Uber, likes on their posts in social media, lunch or dinner delivered, or Starbucks coffee to their office, mobile customers expect personalized information and engagement on-demand.

Here are a few eye-opening examples from Google of how mobile searches are evolving over the last two years:

  • “___ near me now” searches have jumped more than 150%
  • “___ near me today/tonight” searches have shot up over 900%
  • locations that are “Open” and “now” and “near me” has increased by in excess of 200%

Mobile customers aren’t going to stop evolving. They’re not going to stop feeling empowered. To stay relevant, brands need to design mobile experiences that align with the changing mobile consumer.

It’s clear, people want things now, on-demand and personalized. They don’t want slow, clunky, complicated, irrelevant “mobile” websites. Their actions and words are speaking loudly. Listen to what they’re saying and look at what they’re doing in these moments.

  • Buy
  • Near me
  • Now
  • Today/tonight
  • Open

Where are you in these moments? How do these moments play out? What are the experiences that mobile consumers seek and how are they different/better than the journey with your brand?

The answers will reveal your next steps. Your actions will dictate your role in their journey and whether or not you’re a part of their consideration process. The good news is that with every step you take, you’re actually getting closer to customers and that makes all the difference.

Author’s Bio:


Brian Solis is principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter, the digital analyst group at Prophet. He’s also a world-renowned keynote speaker and 7x best-selling author. His latest book, X: Where Business Meets Design, explores the future of brand and customer engagement through experience design. Invite him to speak at your next event. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.


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