Embracing technology will help local businesses attract more local customers
Local businesses are challenged because of the economy, increased costs, less traffic, online competitors and a lack of resources. However, as one of many business-to-business solutions providers of a variety of tools that would assist them to overcome these issues, [I consider it] common knowledge to us collectively that local merchants don’t respond to efforts to address these matters. In fact, it isn’t cost effective for us to repeatedly and fruitlessly offer a new tool to businesses, that only costs them $39 and is proven to work, so we have no choice but to go to chains or go out of business ourselves. Locals don’t take calls or take the time necessary because they don’t have the time or energy and they—and the community—suffer for it.
It’s true that local merchants have difficulty playing on a level playing field with regional and national chains that have been more able to afford staffing, technology, and marketing using new marketing tools such as digital, social media, mobile, text and so on cost effectively. Also true, however, is that the “buy local” mantra sometimes is used too often to remind people to shop local at local merchants that have not made enough effort to update their product offerings, provide easy access via mobile, communicate easily and directly in a cost-effective manner with local customers using text, e-mails and mobile messaging, and offering delivery, etc., when those—and other—improvements are now so affordable, effective and easy to implement.
I’ve also seen these issues on a personal level when I shop locally with pizza operators, sub shops, retail, service, fashion, personal services and other business types that see as much as 40 or 50 percent and more of chain orders going online. Even large churches are taking advantage of the opportunities I’ve mentioned, while small ones hesitate. Google favors locals, and 60 percent of millennials as well as boomers are using their tablets and phones while they watch TV, and 70 percent never have their devices more than a few feet away 24/7/365, yet [they] still can’t access non-chain locals directly when they want to order a sandwich delivery. Plus, too few locals update and optimize SEO [search engine optimization] and websites, or use YouTube videos, etc., so search doesn’t help them.
In this area there are plenty of marketing, tech or small business consultants looking for local businesses to work with, while local businesses are themselves going online to order their inventory and/or to purchase non-local marketing assistance, software, SEO, etc., that sends dollars out of the community. To “buy local” goes both ways, and should include business-to-business considerations.
While desktop [computers] are being replaced by mobile devices because they’re more affordable, accessible and universally accepted, few local businesses can complete a mobile sale or take a mobile order or benefit from a “share” of a special offer, link or some other free branding message to Facebook. It’s not possible to grow a modern business or compete with a simple website, an ad in a mailer, a once-yearly coupon and a cry to “buy local.” Digital orders that move phone calls to more accurate online/mobile orders are typically higher sale amounts than phone calls or walk-in orders. Chains are taking more market share while cutting costs in this challenging business environment, and locals will continue to slip until they are willing to meet some of the challenges with solutions that are now affordable to them, such as online ordering, direct digital marketing, mobilized Web apps and social media sharing.
Jim Simpson has started or operated service, tech, events, financial, health insurance and digital e-commerce businesses, with employees numbering from 1 to 1,200, both locally and with locations in the top 45 U.S. markets. He currently operates LocalMobil.com, in Cleveland Heights.