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The Shift Toward “Buy Local” – How Can Online Businesses Compete?

The Shift Toward “Buy Local” – How Can Online Businesses Compete?

E-commerce relies on an accessible and trustworthy digital presence, but with recent advertising drives telling customers to buy local, how can online businesses compete with face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) commerce?

Current B2C electronic commerce spans every niche of every sector and practically every product is accessible to everyone, no matter where they live. This means buyers can compare sellers’ services, products, and prices in their hometown or on the other side of the world without effort.

This leads e-commerce entrepreneurs to try to get website or social media visitor attention by expanding their digital presence trying to outshine (and criticize) the competition, clogging up the arteries of consumer information networks. But there’s a better way…

Local Businesses – An Increasing Online Presence

A business that does not have a digital presence in the form of a website, online store, or social media account has nothing to do with e-commerce. These are usually extremely localized concerns such as farm shops and local newsagents that depend on local clients.

When High Street footfall slows – such as during lockdown – these businesses struggle. With COVID-19 second waves already showing their ugly heads and future waves predicted, relying on local clients is no longer an option.

Instead, local banks and governments are assisting these businesses towards a brighter future in e-commerce. This means even more competition for the existing ones. However, the new competition has an edge; public opinion is becoming increasingly biased due to government encouragement to buy from local businesses and support the local economy.

Formerly, the drive to buy local was an environmental issue that only a small percentage of the population took note of. With Brexit, the UK has produced a lot of noise about buying British. Now, thanks to the COVID-19 virus, the move to support one’s local butcher, baker, and candlestick maker is gaining momentum. Shopping from local suppliers has become a conscious step for people all over Europe and the US.

Is All Lost for National Retailers?

As a small business owner or CEO in the current environment, you will probably have changed your marketing strategies multiple times.

Every blog and post gives new tips on how to adjust your strategies and beat the competition. With government-supported drives to buy local, you may have lost existing customers who instead opt to support businesses in their counties, cities, towns, and villages.

So, what can you do to stop them? Very little; however, you can integrate them into your marketing strategy with much success.

A recent whitepaper published by Barclays Bank (UK) includes much food-for-thought for national and international businesses:

  • Click-and-Collect expansion utilizes local stores and suppliers.
  • 26% of businesses have used analytics for the first time during the pandemic.
  • 15% of businesses are taking on more staff to accommodate online sales.
  • 20% of retailers see the future of retail on local High Streets, but not large cities.
  • 39% of retailers report supply-chain disruptions– 27% are moving to local suppliers.

Local Integration

The points mentioned above speak volumes as they guide us toward a solution for the rapidly increasing numbers of local e-commerce competitors.

The trick is not to compete with the local sector, but to work with it. Supply chains work more reliably when they are shorter. So, changing your suppliers or expanding your network of local distributors can significantly shorten disruptions, and– more significantly– provide localized services all over the country (or all over the globe).

Drive-Up and Click and Collect services are essential during a global pandemic but have also proven to be an excellent feature in terms of customer service as the buyer does not need to stay at home in anticipation of a package. The knowledge that a return can be made at no extra cost and with minimal effort can also help increase sales. There is also the added value of a local face (not necessarily the face of the sender).

Click and Collect sales have grown more than 60% (to 60 billion dollars) in the US in the past year, and there is no reason to believe this trend will dip when (if) the final wave of COVID-19 disappears into a memory. Why? Click and Collect is convenient and it beats the postal service as it is cheaper than courier transport.

Integrating local businesses into your delivery scheme means you can advertise this cooperation. You cannot compete with the thousands of other companies that use the same delivery method (these competitors include Amazon), but giving your customers the option to collect locally at a time that suits them will be very appreciated.

Advertise Affiliations with Local Communities

It is time to do your homework. Etsy’s huge success story had much to do with supporting local handcrafting businesses in its early years. And while Etsy’s goals have changed beyond recognition (you now need a full understanding of the Etsy search engine and algorithm as you fight for visibility among a host of super sellers), it still retains its reputation as a selling platform for local artists.

For existing Etsy stores and those considering Etsy as a platform for their goods, getting noticed isn’t as simple as you might expect. Using an Etsy marketing expert’s services, such as the one-of-a-kind Etsy geeks, is highly recommended.

A good marketing plan will source one or more products from local manufacturers and suppliers and try to secure a quasi-exclusive online contract. Full exclusivity should be avoided because by agreeing to be the sole supplier, you are limiting the sales of a small, local business. This may make you look more like a cold-hearted corporate demon than a saving angel.

Every affiliation with a local source should be advertised…loudly. A call to action that invites your visitor to help the economy of his or her place of residence has a lot of clout. And when the next “Buy Local” or “Local First” campaign comes along, you can take full advantage of the free advertising.

Corporate Responsibility

Buy Local can become part of your corporate responsibility, running hand-in-hand with a drive to reduce your carbon footprint. In retail, sustainability takes many forms, from packaging to shipping and from printed manuals to PDF files.

Unfortunately for the environment, the ease of Click and Collect has several negative connotations. Primarily, there is a high return rate of fashion items. For example– over a third of online shoppers returned a purchased fashion item. And during national sales periods (such as Black Friday), it is said that the vast numbers of packages create peaks in CO2 emissions.

Returns and discounts are two ways of increasing conversions. One deals with trustworthiness (if the product isn’t how I expected, I can return it), the other with price (I get a bargain). When you advertise your affiliation with local businesses, you can provide eco-alternatives for both.

While shoppers generally select the quickest delivery methods at the lowest price point, most are prepared to pay more to both support local businesses and lower carbon emissions. The need for a bargain is reduced when a customer feels they are giving something back.

Secondly, your affiliation with a local source gives a consumer the sense of a face-to-face contact point, which increases trustworthiness. For example, many buyers feel safer if they buy electrical goods from a High Street store because they know that, in case of a fault, they can bring it back to a human being and explain the problem. Even if your supplier is not part of your customer services department, an affiliation with a local firm brings your business closer to the consumer.

Embrace Local, Attract Global

You can’t increase your online conversions if you aren’t getting enough traffic, and you won’t convert high visitor volumes without offering something your traffic wants. This is an extremely generic statement. Even so, it fits the shape of any business plan– you just have to do it in the correct order.

The first step is to source appropriate local manufacturers, partners, and/or suppliers in areas where your current visitors and conversions reside. This means analyzing your website and social media data. With Barclays Bank reporting that 26% of retailers only used analytics for the first time during the pandemic, you might not have taken the plunge, but it is worth hiring a professional or a team of professionals to manage this critical task.

When you have selected local businesses that add prestige and interest to your company, it is time to advertise their presence and showcase them through every possible channel.

You then need to target local visitors. It is a good idea to mix a little traditional advertising (in the form of physical newspaper ads and flyers) with primarily digital strategies that include SEO, backlinks, quality content, influencers, and online ads. One secret tip for rapid SEO results is the Traffic Bot tools from Diaboliclabs.com.

Analyzing your customer location is essential when it comes to picking out the right local businesses. When we look at the data provided through longer-term marketing campaigns, the results can be astonishing.

How Do I Compete with Local Businesses? Don’t.

By integrating your online business with local enterprises, you not only earn your company a greener label, but you also become a local yourself.

Just remember that your new local partners are a physical point of contact for your clients. Even if they are only your suppliers and have nothing to do with customer services, these representatives may bear the brunt of any complaints.

Additionally, a healthy relationship between global and local enterprises is a respectful and cooperative relationship. One enjoys the kudos of positive corporate responsibility with higher conversion rates. The other gets free advertising and a much broader client base. As with any healthy relationship, both sides need to pick the right partner.


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by Rebecca Jones // Contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.