Shop Online, Buy Locally
Locally.com is steering online shoppers to local businesses.
To say that the internet has disrupted traditional consumer shopping patterns is an understatement on the level of saying there’s room for improvement on the Saints defense. An ever-increasing percentage of buyers are making their purchases online, and if they go into a store at all, it’s to check out the products in person before searching for a better deal on the web. If you believe some of the pundits, Amazon.com is on the verge of world domination.
Not so fast, says a recently launched New Orleans-based venture called Locally.com.
“A lot of brands are not excited about dealing with monopolies like Amazon,” observed Locally president and co-founder, Mike Massey. “And even though Amazon wins business with its fast delivery, there are a lot of times when the customer wants the product now.”
In addition, Massey cited data that indicates that “52 percent of online shoppers prefer to shop at the brand website.”
In essence, Locally bridges the gap between local retail outlets and online shoppers. The company has established a vast database of products and retailers, which enable consumers to identify the products they want, then find local stores that carry them. They can even do price comparisons before settling on their preferred place of purchase.
From there, the buyer can either make a quick trip to the store itself – walking in knowing the exact item you want makes for a fast turnaround time – or arrange for delivery via yet another nascent direct-economy option, independent microdelivery services (see sidebar).
According to Massey (an experienced retailer himself, as a third-generation member of the Massey Outfitters family), Locally receives daily inventory updates from thousands of stores nationally. Similarly, national brands publish their catalogues to Locally, and use Locally’s data to identify dealer locations and hours to post on their own websites.
There is one gap as yet unbridged in this approach: the connection to the truly local stores that carry their own unique products, such as bakeries, craft stores, specialty clothing outlets and the like. The entire Locally system is driven by product bar codes, and as Massey pointed out, “it’s hard to print a bar code on a bagel. But local product stores can engage if they can develop product codes.”
For now, Locally tends to focus on higher-end specialty products, and thus far the concept has proven remarkably successful. From its founding in 2014, Locally now has a presence in some 800 cities across the country.
In Massey’s view, retail is going to continue to evolve.
“Retailers are going to have to choose between the mass market world and the specialty world,” he predicted. “There’s not going to be too much room in the middle. Local stores are going to have to offer better service, be better curators of their products.”
Local stores will also have to establish new and better ways to connect with local customers, and Locally.com is definitely part of that equation.
Just as Uber took the established concept of taxi service and applied smartphone technology and the direct economy approach in order to create an entirely new industry, a handful of entrepreneurs around the country are using the same methodology to create a new approach to delivery service. By establishing a network of independent, on-call drivers, companies such as Delivery.com offer buyers and sellers a fast and affordable way to get products from store to home.
Locally.com founder, Mike Massey, sees this as a real opportunity.
“There are about 30 of these micro-delivery services nationally, but none that is truly national,” he said. “We are keeping an eye on them, and if one breaks out, that would be something we would consider incorporating into our model.”
On the driver’s end of the equation, the appeal might be less stringent regulations on vehicle quality, plus avoiding the potential problems that come with carrying passengers. Another opportunity knocks ….
Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.