Jun 23 2017

Locally turns three.

The New Orleans-based startup is experiencing sharp growth in its third year.

By Mike Massey   Founder & CEO

Locally launched in July 2014 with a mission of getting locally available brands and products in front of nearby online shoppers by using digital marketing tactics. It was clear back then that shoppers were transitioning away from the traditional shopping paradigm of Main Street and malls - and that in doing so, local stores would be presented with a new and better way serve their customers. Technology didn't have to be driving doom and gloom into the retail sector. Locally was presenting a clear path forward via adaption and evolution.

Not everyone was convinced back then....
but now they are.

Today, Locally is the one of the leading voices for online to offline shopping and location-based digital marketing. Many of the world's largest brands have come to the same conclusion; customer-centric, omni-channel strategies are critical to their brand's success, momentum, and longevity. Neighborhood advocates require a level of social engagement which isn't easily replaced with national campaigns. Many of those big brands have tapped Locally to help them bolster their last-mile marketing efforts and wholesale distribution networks.

Over the past year, Locally's reach has grown substantially. More than 1500 retailers in over 800 cities in the US and Canada now share real-time inventory and dozens more are added each week. Locally is spearheading a multi-industry expansion, including marquee brands in running, fishing, automotive, baby products, toys, and soon comfort footwear and snowsports. Daily transaction volume and shopper engagement metrics have shot up by double digits and into the millions of interactions per month platform-wide.

To service the increasing volume and scope, and with the advice of advisors and new investors, Locally decided almost a year ago to overhaul their web platform. This was important for multiple reasons. First, the original interface design was tied a bit too closely to the outdoor industry's look and feel. It was clear that climbing or hiking imagery wasn't conducive to baby products or any of the other verticals that would eventually require a platform like Locally's. Second, their suite of consumer-facing products had been designed and developed piecemeal, as the needs of brands and retailers surfaced. There was an urgent need for visual and code uniformity and cohesiveness across all of Locally's tools, especially given the accelerated growth they were experiencing. So, the team leadership spent the summer of 2016 interviewing and researching web developers with the expertise and experience to carry out a comprehensive upgrade. After numerous meetings and interviews, a clear leader emerged. The Montana-based firm, Zane Ray, who exceeded all expectations, was hired. They ultimately delivered a comprehensive new platform in April 2017.

Ben Hirsch, Locally co-founder and CTO expresses, "The challenge of a complete redesign was enormous. We required a mobile-first user experience which could be presented neutrally across industries, brands and retailer participation levels. We needed a design which would account for immense growth, but also a platform that we could grow into for years to come. The team at Zane Ray did just that, and they set the stage for all upcoming initiatives."

Photo by Zach Meaney on Unsplash

Another reason a total re-imagine and re-build was essential for Locally was that online to offline transactions are expected by many experts to explode in coming years. These types of digital to real-world purchases are not unlike making a dinner reservation from your office computer, buying a movie ticket on a internet-enabled tablet in your car, or hailing a ride with an iPhone. It is entirely unrealistic that shoppers are cut off from trillions of dollars of inventory sitting on store shelves within that "last mile" that reporters, retailers, and investors endlessly speculate and fret over. But what does this type of transaction look like?

"We set out to find the best ways to get online shoppers to buy locally - and then use what we learned to build the standard."

Coming full circle to the mission of allowing shoppers to engage with local stores and their inventories digitally, it was important to avoid the trap of building another siloed channel. Sure, shoppers can visit a few retailers' websites and do a BOPIS transaction (Buy Online, Pick-Up In Store), but can that same customer start at the retailer's Facebook page? Can they be routed to BOPIS from a brand's product page? Is there an app or email that unifies the shipped purchase option with a locally delivered choice? It was important that there be one solution worked across all channels and was compatible with all tactics (but not be disruptive to the customer's experience).

Mike Massey, Locally co-founder and CEO says, "We also knew that any system that could work in all of these different places needed to be a tightly unified process for the shoppers and have an approachable and low-tech interface for retailers." He goes on "Our list of objectives and problems that needed to be solved was huge. It was unclear that we could turn such complexity into simplicity. Picking the right developers was mission critical."

The big bet paid off. As the new platform turned a corner into 2017, the first technology to deploy (in a somewhat backwards fashion) was a unified checkout process (shopping cart). Locally.com wasn't even close to being finished, but internal metrics were strongly pointing to the new checkout process gaining traction on the brand and retailer sites that Locally powers. Brands were quick to deploy the new system and suddenly shoppers were seeing local inventory on their favorite brands' websites and often preferring a pick-up at a nearby store over a multi-day wait and complicated return process.

Stores were also seeing an uptick in sales through Locally's free, embeddable, ecommerce-like solution called Locally Pages. The new platform was designed to get shoppers as quickly as possible to actually 'buying local' and seriously streamlined the back and forth between shopper and store.

The vision of unified-simplicity and channel-agnosticism was working.

As Locally moves into the second half of 2017, both brands and retailers are hearing the omnichannel message loud and clear. Every day in the news, we hear about how online shopping and digital marketing are increasingly being monopolized by a few major firms. But, most brands and retailers would still prefer a better, more democratic system that supports their entire channel's health by keeping the final purchase decision in their mutual customer's hands. Still, no one denies that shoppers are connected to the web 24/7 and increasingly expect all digital solutions to be "on-demand."

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash According to Mark Strella, Locally's Business Development Director, interest in the Locally platform among brands has never been higher. "We're not only working with some of the largest consumer brands in the world, we're seeing our technology become a new standard for how these brands market themselves to shoppers and retailers." He continues, "So many brands are realizing that, rather than letting their direct-to-consumer and wholesale / brick & mortar channels devolve into a paradigm of destructive, zero-sum competition, they can utilize Locally and team up with their retailers and serve shoppers in a way that leverages each other's comparative advantages to drive sales across the board by providing customers with a viable alternative to monopoly-seeking marketplaces."

Retailers - both large and small - are also keenly aware of their changing position within the evolving retail ecosystem. While they no longer have the advantage of being the only local franchisee for a brand or having geographically exclusivity of a product category, there's still no one closer to the shopper with a locally-informed inventory than their stores. But, those Main Street shops will need to find new ways to talk to online shoppers - who shop 24/7 and no longer call stores to check on products.

Luckily, as it turns out, building new ways for shops to talk to online shoppers is a whole-lot easier than building a network of warehouses and a fleet of drones.

Going into 2018, you will hear Locally talking about two big ideas; the retail mesh network (and how the open internet beat AOL) and win-win digital marketing. Stay tuned if those ideas interest you.

About Mike Massey

Mike is a third-generation specialty retailer and owner of Massey's Outfitters in New Orleans. He pioneered both e-commerce and marketplace sales before realizing that shopper behavior was changing and brick and mortar needed a paradigm shift to keep up. At Locally, Mike is the head of strategy, operations, and partnerships.  View all posts by Mike

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