With the Christmas shopping season approaching, Google has improved its Froogle product search and comparison shopping engine with a feature that lets buyers find not only products available online but also local merchants that sell the desired products offline.

Froogle has traditionally pointed buyers at websites that carry the products they are searching for, but now by clicking on the option "local shopping," buyers get a list of stores in their neighbourhood that sell the searched-for items, Google announced yesterday.

This is a good feature for buyers who don't want to buy a product online and wait for it to be delivered to them, said Debbie Jaffe, a Froogle product marketing manager.

Merchants that don't offer their products for sale on their informational websites can upload a file to Google with their inventory information and have their products appear on Froogle's local index, Jaffe said.

To upload the information, merchants should go to Google.com/sellonfroogle, which funnels the data into the company's recently announced content database Google Base, from where it will be passed on to Froogle.

Already, Froogle has several hundred merchants in its local index, including Federated Department Stores, Macy's, Dillard's, Petco Animal Supplies, PetSmart, Best Buy and Circuit City Stores.

"This is like a marriage between Froogle and Google Local," Jaffe said, referring to Google's service for looking up local business listings.

Froogle is still in its beta, or test, phase.