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Google, NearSt Partnership Looks To Mirror Alibaba’s Tech In The U.K. And U.S.

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Google, NearSt Partnership Looks To Mirror Alibaba’s Tech In The U.K. And U.S.

A U.K. retail startup has formed a partnership with Google to try to help small high street retailers use technology to drive traffic from online searches.

NearSt allows shoppers to see what products are available in local shops via the web. Now, as well as being able to search for say, lightbulbs, via the NearSt website, search results will be displayed in Google searches, which will also show how far away the shop is and the price of the item.

Google told the BBC it will make it “as easy to shop locally as it is online”.

"It gives small retailers the ability to compete effectively in the online world, without needing any of the technical and financial firepower of their online competitors,” Google Global Head of Local Shopping Nathalie Walton said.

"We all live our lives through our smartphones but they are blind to what is on the shelves of shops we are walking past,” NearSt co-founder Nick Brackenbury said. “If that is made clear to people, then I am very optimistic about the future of the High Street.”

The company has raised £1.3M of funding so far, and plans to raise another £2M, partly to fund a U.S. expansion.

The system has echoes of technology rolled out to great effect by e-commerce giant Alibaba in China.

That company is working on the conversion of 100,000 retail stores into Alibaba-linked smart stores. If customers go into a shop and cannot find a product, they can find other stores nearby that might sell it, or have it delivered at home.

Last year Alibaba sent an army of technicians across China to help more than 600,000 independent retailers — mom-and-pop stores, convenience stores and independents selling everything from clothes to hardware — upgrade their computer systems.

Those stores were able to sell goods through one of Alibaba’s online platforms, Tmail.com, and now serve as delivery and storage centres for goods sold on Alibaba.

Convenience stores use an Alibaba app that helps manage these sales and deliveries, but also gives store owners advice on what they should be stocking to maximise profits and how their wares should be displayed.