New offer extensions in Google AdWords let PPC advertisers give exclusive deals or discounts to searchers - when they print off a voucher and shop in-store. ClickThrough's head of content, Ali Harris, wonders if Google is throwing an unexpected lifeline to the High Street
Double-dip recessions aside, online shopping has squarely taken the blame for the rapid nosedive in High Street retail prosperity.
With every online store in the world just a click away, local brick and mortar stores have struggled in the face of global competition.
In the UK, countless High Streets that once thrived with shops are now desolate and barren. They've been deserted by shoppers and retailers alike.
The problem is so bad, the Government has drafted in flame-haired business guru Mary Portas (famed for helping struggling business turn their fortunes). They've given her thousands of pounds, and asked her to regenerate 12 dying town centres to see if the decline is terminal, or just temporary.
Still in its early days, the Portas Project experiment is showing some positives, but is yet to show real headway.
Not all online stores let you shop online
Online retailers like Amazon and eBay give consumers convenient access to a universe of products. Most big name shops now have established websites, and many look to make customers convert online.
There are a few exceptions, of course. Primark is one of the UK's biggest retailers, and you can't buy a thing off their website. And it appears Primark doesn't even use PPC.
But such examples are few and far between.
Even Amazon, to some extent, helps to support local businesses: it's a marketplace, any local shop can list products on there (provided they're willing to sort shipping etc) and Amazon Local Deals allow customers to experience fun days out (like paintballing) at nearby locations for reduced cost.
Which is all well and good - but offering discounts on unusual days out is hardly a salvo for the High Street when, in many areas, it appears to be breathing its last.
Didn't Google just monetise Shopping with PLAs?
Indeed, Google Shopping has just changed too - now searchers can look for products via the Shopping search function, much as they would on Amazon, and over time, this is likely to truly resemble an online marketplace.
So if consumers see something they like in Shopping, they can click a big, image-led product listing ad, and arrive, card-in-hand, ready to convert on the retailer's landing page.
With mobiles, tablets, desktops and laptops in use around-the-clock, buying habits are changing. This kind of quick interaction is becoming commonplace. Often, this is because it's quick and easy.
But online stores are also able to offer better prices than their High Street counterparts - perhaps because increased competition is forcing down margins, or because an online store doesn't need a brick and mortar presence, trained or uniformed staff, or any of the other expensive considerations particular to a High Street shop.
Indeed, many "mom and pop" businesses, or small, local retailers, have seen the Internet as a threat, an arrow to their knee.
An unexpected AdWords lifeline for the High Street?
Now, it seems Google is throwing the High Street an unexpected lifeline - with new Offer Extensions in AdWords.
Offer Extensions are pretty much exclusively an offline offering: but one that starts with an online ad.
Businesses can set up PPC campaigns and try to entice shoppers into their stores with exclusive in-store offers - such as discounts or incentives.
When their PPC ad is served, it shows hyperlinked text saying "View Offer".
Searchers can then click on the offer, and get taken to a Google-hosted offers page relevant to the ad.
They can then choose either to print the offer, or save it to their Google account's "offers page".
Either way, the discount or offer then has to be redeemed in-store, physically, at the till.
"Offer extensions help you drive more foot traffic to your store or local business by distributing your promotions through AdWords campaigns," Google explains.
Making foot traffic a measurable AdWords metric
'Foot traffic' is an interesting metric for an online business (Google) to be offering its customers - but it shows how powerful the Internet is that Google's confident it can positively uplift sales offline and on.
"In addition to engaging customers," Google says, "they also allow you to measure the performance of your ad campaigns through metrics like impressions, clicks, and the number of offers printed or saved.
"Offer extensions provide a relevant addition to your AdWords campaigns, that helps bring your online customers into your online stores."
Integration with other Google features (such as Google+ or Places for Business) will even allow retailers to determine the branches in which consumers can redeem offers - creating the potential for hyperlocal offers bespoke to certain groups of searchers.
Whether advertisers take to offer extensions remains to be seen - although in the increasingly competitive AdWords marketplace, it seems anything which makes your ads stand out can have a positive effect.
Of course, the tangible effect this will have on the wider issue of dying UK High Streets will probably be slight. But, for local retailers, new ways to attract customers to their shops can only be seen as a step in the right direction.