Tech, Shopping and Black History Month

Tech companies are showing their support for Black History Month in a variety of ways, including new shopping-related features.

On Monday, Google revealed that it’s extending the Black-owned attribute in its Shopping tab to make it easier for consumers to find and patronize local businesses. Business owners can immediately add the attribute through the Google Merchant Help Center, and the feature will become available to all U.S. Google Merchants in the coming months.

Google sees the move as a natural extension of a similar feature rolled out last summer across search and maps. Now, with the retail angle, the company figures it could help bolster direct commerce for relevant establishments.

According to Attica Jaques, director of brand marketing for consumer apps at Google, search interest in “Black-owned businesses” soared 600 percent over the past 12 months, based on Google Trends data.

“Across the country, people have been looking for ‘Black-owned restaurants,’ ‘Black-owned bookstores,’ ‘Black-owned beauty supply’ and more, which speaks to the diversity within the Black business community,” Jaques wrote in a Google blog post. “We want to make it easier for people to support and spend dollars with the Black businesses they love.”

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The change fits into Google’s stated goal with shopping. Its mission of “democratizing online retail for merchants of all sizes,” as a spokeswoman told WWD, spurred major updates to Google Shopping over the past year. Merchants were allowed to offer products for free and with no commission fees for online check-out via “Buy on Google.” The company also released changes designed to help consumers find new stores and compare prices.

Google’s Black-owned business attribute in the Shopping tab. Courtesy image

The massive uptick in interest for supporting Black-owned businesses wasn’t limited to Google. Yelp saw an even greater surge amounting to “unprecedented numbers,” it said. Searches for Black-owned businesses on the site shot up 2,400 percent in 2020, compared to 2019, and review mentions were up 232 percent over the same period.

Naturally, the online directory and review site for local businesses is celebrating Black History Month as well. To mark the occasion, Yelp is curating a list of “Black-Owned Businesses to Watch in 2021” — a roster that comprises highly rated and popular Black-owned businesses across the beauty, home, and food and restaurants categories.

Facebook and Instagram will double down on the parent company’s #BuyBlack Friday campaign, which pulled in more than 15 million views last fall. This time, they aim to boost visibility for Black entrepreneurs with a #BuyBlack initiative across Facebook and Instagram Shops. Instagram will also promote Black-owned brands through its @Shop account.

Apple is marking the month with retail, too, though in a different way. On Monday, the tech giant said it’s releasing a Black Unity Collection for its Apple Watch that was “designed to celebrate and acknowledge Black history and Black culture,” a spokesman said.

Apple’s Black Unity Collection offers a limited-edition Apple Watch Series 6, watch face and strap in honor of Black History Month. Courtesy image

The line includes a limited-edition Apple Watch Series 6 with a Black Unity Sport Band and a new Unity watch face. Apple Watch Series 6 Black Unity starts at $399, and the Black Unity Sport Band retails for $49.

According to the company, the effort will support six groups: Black Lives Matter Support Fund via the Tides Foundation; European Network Against Racism, International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights; Leadership Conference Education Fund; NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc., and Souls Grown Deep. How much of the proceeds will be directed to these organizations was unclear.

These projects are just a sliver of broader equity efforts and Black History Month initiatives. But the spotlight on shopping and social awareness could offer concrete, measurable support that can make a difference for Black-owned businesses, especially during the critical COVID-19 retail recovery period. And that means, hopefully, the support will continue on beyond just this month.

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