According to a 2010 survey conducted by BIA/Kelsey and ConStat, nearly all consumers (97 percent) now use online media -- an average of 7.9 different sources -- when researching products and services in their local area. Jack Abraham, the founder of Milo and director of Local for eBay, believes this fact has costly consequences for retailers and service businesses that dont pay attention to and act on this huge trend.
"So if a local store is not part of that [online search] experience or is not discoverable during that research phase, they risk being left out -- and losing that business to other retailers who are present when the customer is deciding what to buy and where to buy it online," said Abraham.
But with so many online tools to choose from, how do you know which Web-to-local services are truly worth the investment (even if its only your time)? Start by formulating a Web-to-local strategy, and ask yourself the following questions when evaluating your options:
- Is my main goal to acquire new customers or to retain existing customers? (Ideally, you want to do both, but which is more important right now?)
- Who is my target customer -- and which sites or services do they use?
- Whats the cost (both from a time and money perspective)? Do I have to spend a lot of time on this? Is it a laborious process?
- What are the benefits of using a particular service? Will using it put me in front of 100, 1,000, or tens of thousands of nearby, potential customers? And are these customers going to be one-time bargain hunters or the kind of people who will become loyal brand advocates?
"Probably the best way to look at it is as a simple cost-benefit analysis," said Abraham.
For example, daily deal sites such as LivingSocial and Groupon seem very attractive to small businesses, with their potential to generate a large amount of business/sales in a very short period of time. However, they tend to attract discount-minded bargain hunters who are unlikely to become repeat customers.
Moreover, they often wind up costing businesses money. Thats because in addition to offering steep discounts, which cut into their margins, businesses have to pay the daily-deal sites a fee or percentage upfront, before a single sale has been made. That said, if youve crunched the numbers and are reasonably sure you can turn a small profit, using a LivingSocial or Groupon might be a worthwhile investment.
Again, its all about that all-important cost-benefit analysis -- and knowing who and where to find your target customers.
3 Web-to-Local Services
Small business owners who want to take a less-risky, less-expensive approach to attracting new business and retaining customers can choose from many other helpful Web-to-local services out there. And three of the most popular are Foursquare, Milo (now a part of eBays Local) and Yelp.
Erin Gleason, PR manager for Foursquare, believes this Web-to-local service offers value for businesses of all stripes. "Every type of business -- national chains, mom-and-pop shops and anything in between -- can use Foursquare to attract new customers and reward and retain loyal customers," she said.
Foursquares Merchant Platform lets business owners offer discounts or freebies (called Specials) to people who come to their retail stores. The Platform is free, and Foursquare lets business owners choose from a variety of Specials, depending on whether they want to acquire new customers (in which case they might use a Flash or Newbie Special) or to retain existing customers (using a Loyalty or Mayor Special).
In addition, Foursquare is constantly adding new tools and partners. For example, the service recently partnered with LivingSocial, Gilt City, Zozi, BuyWithMe and AT&T Interactive, giving small businesses even more opportunities to connect with Foursquares 10 million-plus users.