My partners and I started Locally 5 years ago with a vision of helping online shoppers find and complete their purchases with their favorite nearby stores. We saw that consumer behavior was shifting to online product research and feared that local stores would increasingly be cut off from shoppers' decision-making process.
The initial effort was relatively small. We had 13 retailers participating after the first year, and all we could do for them is try to help them win natural search results in their town. At the time, the idea of local stores winning the SEO battles was seen as landing somewhere between futile and irrelevant. Adoption was slow.
But things change.
Over the next couple of years, we built more point-of-sale (POS) connections for retailers to use when joining, and we started building tools for brands to use in their own marketing and on their sites. As we drove more consumer engagements, more businesses joined the platform. More retailers started sharing inventory, more brands started displaying local ways to buy things.
And, we kept iterating. First, we added Reserve-Online-Pay-In-Store (ROPIS). A year later we built Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPIS or Click-and-Collect). Last year, we added support for Same-Day Delivery via third party couriers like Postmates. Today, we're working on Ship-to-Store (which lets brands and stores work together on full-service local pickups).
Soon, we will offer local returns for online purchases, even further closing the loop between stores, brands, and shoppers.
1.9 Billion Shopper Engagements in December
Over the 5 year arc of adoption, we've gone from 13 participating stores to almost 10,000 in over 3,500 cities. We've gone from 25 founding brand partners to 250 participating brands. But one thing has remained constant; our target audience isn't JUST our retailer and brand clients (b2b), it's also shoppers (b2b2c).
As a matter of fact, for Locally to achieve its original goals, we need to keep shoppers as our primary concern. We need to learn from their shopping behaviors and then use those insights to guide the way toward solutions that THEY want. When they want. How they want.
Consider the most dominant force in retail today, Amazon. I don't think any business person, whether they work with them or against them, thinks that Amazon's primary goal is to maintain warm relationships with other businesses. They focus all of their energy on consumers and consumer adoption, even to the point where business people often disdainfully recount their personal anecdotes of Amazon taking the shopper's side against everyone else.
Deep in the story of an enormous corporation putting shoppers alone at the very top of their mission is a story for all of our friends in the business community: shoppers-first is the best practice. Period. So, let's talk about what this means.
Get Involved! We're building a platform for consumers to use to shop with you. We get that you may not like being listed next to competitors on Locally. But we don't believe we should make that choice. If the ecosystem is improved for the shopper by having more purchasing options, then we consider that a win for the most important audience - and therefore a win for local retail. As the network grows, our ability to reach the shoppers you want to walk in your store grows. Online "foot traffic" improves everyone's visibility. There's a reason big retailers are next to one another.
Share More! Focusing on preventing your competitors from knowing what brands you carry or how much inventory you have also hides that information from shoppers. That may have worked in the Yellow Pages era, but it is a critical strategic error right now. It would be like movie theaters hiding what movies they are playing and forcing moviegoers to come to the theater to see what's playing.
Use Our Tools! If you don't know, there are tools for doing delivery, offering in-store pickup, stocking the most popular products, embedding your inventory on Facebook, and WAY more. The more you use these tools, the better you are equipped to reach your audience, be a smarter retailer, and grow a healthy business. Plus, you are solving a problem for the shopper you want to walk in your store! This is critical. Making online-to-offline shopping ubiquitous to shoppers will improve your fortunes as part of a rising tide.
Activate Your Dealers! The best brands in the world run seamless sales operations. Look at Apple as an example. They also take their lead from shoppers who are notoriously fickle about shopping in single channels all the time.
Shoppers might discover a new brand that they aren't familiar with on a shopping trip and end up researching it online that night. They might order something from the brand's site and have it shipped to their house, or they might want to return to the store the next day. Giving shoppers less information about how to buy your products doesn't improve the likelihood a shopper will buy your products. Nor does improving sales in one channel (at the expense of another) improve overall sales. It just deprecates the number of ways a shopper can shop, often leading to lower overall purchases, lower consumer enthusiasm, and less brand goodwill.
The bottom line for both our retailer and brand friends is that, yes, you should be doing everything you possibly can to grow consumer engagement and sales. But, maintaining focus on enabling the shopper to see your company as an important resource throughout their shopping journey makes your far more valuable to multi-channel shoppers. Empowering shoppers to shop how they want has to factor into all marketing decisions.
The belief that you can keep a shopper in one channel across a lifetime of purchases just isn't realistic.
Instead, if you focus on being good at always offering them the best solution for them to complete a purchase at that time, you are much more likely to build long-term loyalty with both partners and shoppers.