Tales From the Online Marketing Crypt 8 – The Inconvenient Side Effect of the Shop Local Movement

What Local B2C Businesses Need to Focus on to Stay Open
Since COVID-19 barged in on our lives, there’s been a lot of rallying on social media about the #ShopLocal movement. I’ve been on that cheerleading team too-what about you?

But when push comes to shove, are you REALLY shopping local or just supporting from the sidelines while continuing to order from Amazon or some big-box store in a different country, capitalizing on all the juicy sales happening during the holiday season?

It’s OK. I think many of us are guilty, myself included.

Which leads me to why I’m writing this piece…

The dilemma of supporting local: sometimes it’s just not easy to do so.

The other day we needed a part for our BBQ. We called a few local stores, and no one carried the part we needed.

Amazon did. And we got it the next day.

Last Saturday I was bound and determined to support local businesses and set out to buy several gifts on my Christmas list.

In a nutshell, this is what I found:

I drove 45 minutes round-trip to pick up a $10 item, so I could save a $10 shipping charge.
Due to COVID-19, I had to stand in line outside, in the cold, for about 10 minutes before I could enter the store and look around.
Across the street was another store I wanted to check out. The line-up was twice as long so I passed on that idea.
One store I really wanted to go to (and support) was closed by 2pm. It was 2:30 when I got there.
Two of the boutique stores I went to had a fraction of the inventory they normally have during the holiday season. Again, because of the pandemic they had to remove the centre aisle shelves in order to accommodate social distancing.
Another small specialty store only allowed one customer in at a time and there were two people in front of me. I was running out of time, so I went back to my car.
And don’t even get me started with the stress of dealing with the traffic jams and finding parking…

I was gone for four hours, doing my best to support local but dang-it wasn’t convenient at all! Not to mention how exhausted I was by the time I got home.

Now in the spirit of full transparency, I did go to one big-box store and guess what?

No line-ups at the door due to the large store size.

I found exactly what I wanted.

I also found a 30% off coupon on my phone while standing in line that I used towards my purchase.

And I was in and out within a few minutes.

It’s tough for local small businesses to compete with that.

But they’re going to have to if they want to survive.

Big-box stores, including Amazon, offer the selection and competitive prices they do because they have the infrastructure to support those value-based initiatives.

And it’s not as if this is a part of any “new” economy either.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have the Internet, but we did have mail order. Remember that gloriously thick Sears Christmas Wish Book that came in the mail?

My Dad would sit with my brother and I as we pored through the toy section, circling our favourites with gleeful anticipation of what was to be opened on Christmas morning.

Mind you, the fulfillment of that wish list wasn’t as convenient as it is now.

Today the consumer just needs to shop from the comfort of their home and, voila! The presents arrive a few days later, ready to be wrapped and placed under the tree.

As a small business (particularly a brick-and-mortar one) how can you compete with that?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

Think in terms of value. What can you bring to the table that your customer can’t get at a big-box online store or at Amazon?

Consider these areas of focus for your customers:

Customer service. The more personalized you can be, the better.
Uniqueness of product. What have you got that a) can’t be found anywhere else and b) makes an excellent substitution for what they would have bought elsewhere?
Quality. Most all of the time, price determines quality. Cheaper prices mean lower quality. It’s hard to compete on price so can you compete on quality instead?
Convenience. How can you make it MORE convenient to shop with you as opposed to at Amazon? For example, can you offer the same conveniences that Amazon does like:
Ease of use
Sale prices
Free/low-cost shipping
Fast delivery

Always be thinking about the perceived value your business offers as that’s what consumers are basing their purchasing decisions on.

For people to support the shop local movement, the products or services must be of equal or higher quality / value than what Amazon or other online big-box entities offer.

COVID-19 has most definitely made a huge impact on small businesses, especially the brick-and-mortar ones that rely on local customers. The ripple effect of this pandemic has already been-and will continue to be-enormous.

If there ever was a time to take a hard look at your business model, it’s now!

You need to find creative ways to go up against eCommerce sites, which are only going to become more and more prevalent-and competitive-as the pandemic drags on.