We use the phrase “local, independent business” a lot on these pages. We could just as easily use “mom-and-pop,” “specialty shop,” “bricks-and-mortar,” and “Main Street” business. In our minds, all refer to this country’s 10 million-plus small to medium sized retailers that sell to their customers in person–in their stores–and not online.
When you talk to the owners of these businesses you find that one of the things they fear most is “internet shopping,” roughly translated as what has happened to their bottom line as the result of Amazon and–more subtle but equally pernicious–the threat of real-time price comparison.
The Amazon part is easy to explain; you can now get anything you want from Amazon, overnight and at the lowest possible price. The real-time price comparison threat means shoppers in your store now have the ability to scan a bar code on a product you display and instantly find it cheaper online, turning your store into a physical catalog for the benefit of Amazon. It’s a one-two punch that every Main Street shop owner has a right to fear.
The bad news is that mobile (read: smartphones) could make matters worse for Main Street. The good news is that smartphones could make things better…much better. In fact, the smartphone may represent the biggest opportunity that local, independent businesses have had since the neon sign. Let me explain:
Smartphones are everywhere. Walk down Main Street or sit in a restaurant and what do you see? People gazing at smartphone screens, kids texting their friends, young lovers sitting at restaurant tables gazing not at each other but at the phone in their hand (!). It’s all-pervasive and irreversible…but if you think about it, it brings local retailers an unprecedented opportunity to leverage their traditional strengths: convenience, instant gratification and service.
If people are constantly checking their smartphones, it means that your inventory could appear in the palm of their hand at the very moment–or just before the moment–they realize they need something you sell!? But it won’t appear unless mobile search providers can find your photos and present them in the nick of time, whether that potential customer is within 100 yards of your store, or at home, contemplating a weekend getaway and browsing your town’s local offerings.
At Main and Me we know that local offline retailers will always be too busy running their stores and raising their children to manage their online presence as aggressively as Amazon or Macy’s, so unless something is done the playing field will always remain tilted in favor of the online giants who threaten the sustainability of Main Street shopping. We have a clever idea or two about how to build a gateway that connects online shoppers to your offline store–and we hope you’ll sign up to learn more–but for now, what are the ways you’ve prepared for the coming mobile revolution? We’d love to know.