You can find anything on the Internet: a 100-pound bag of Tootsie pops, hair treatment kits, roadside assistance, and even the best Asian hotspot in the town you’re visiting. When everything is online, everything is local. And while that is incredibly convenient for shoppers, it means some changes need to be made by small business owners if they want to retain local business.
The world is at our fingertips. With a few simple searches, anyone in the U.S. can find even niche products or services, often heavily discounted. Pair that with the rapid delivery of all the majority parcel delivery services like FedEx, UPS, USPS, and others, and a world of products are just a couple days away.
Shoppers no longer have to leave the house to shop. Their phones and computers put just about every product they could want just a few clicks away. But it doesn’t stop there. Even businesses that seemed immune to the growing impact the Internet, like grocers, find themselves needing to tweak their approach to retain their customers and remain relevant.
Sounds intimidating, but don’t fret.
People want to shop locally
60% of people prefer to shop locally, but 80% of them still shop online. What stops them? Convenience, for one. Lack of local offerings, for two. But mostly, they’re blocked by the fact that when they start shopping online, they don’t find solutions locally because too many local shops don’t use their online review listings as efficiently as they should.
Even the largest and most successful brands that were born online know that people want a physical store to visit before they buy. In the past year or so, many online giants have invested heavily in local markets to provide their customers with a local storefront.
Allbirds, Away, ModCloth, Glossier, Madison Reed, Warby Parker, Zappos, Bonobos, Boll & Branch, Alibaba, and Blue Nile all started as online businesses and then built physical stores. You probably heard that Amazon bought, with rather apparent intentions, Whole Foods in an effort to penetrate the grocery market. These represent just a portion of the online businesses trying to tap into the local shopper’s market.
Not to worry. This is good news for small and local businesses. It is proof that there is untapped potential in the local markets, especially for physical stores. While online retailers try to get a foot in the door, you’re already in a place to get ahead. You have an advantage that online retailers don’t (you’re already local) and with more people wanting a local option when shopping, you have the attention of the people most likely to buy, but they need your help to find you.
Google favors local businesses
Since Internet searches are the new window shopping, it helps to understand how Google works if you want to know how to help shoppers find your business when they’re looking to buy.
Historically, Google searches favored websites with lots of content, lots of blog posts, and lots of traffic. Getting to the first page of search results was a chore and required a dedicated search engine specialist. However, in the past few years alone, more shoppers have conducted searches for local offerings. To keep ahead of this trend, Google has reworked the way its algorithm returns a customer’s search results. It now favors local shops over national and global businesses.
Hubspot, one of the foremost leaders in online marketing, even highlighted this idea in their latest ebook: 20 SEO Myths to Leave Behind in 2018. When debunking the myth that SEO and Local Listings don’t matter (because they matter more than ever), they had this to say:
“if you’re a national or global business trying to rank for a local term, you might as well give up. Local SEO is that important now. Looking forward, Google will continue to take steps to bubble the best local content to the surface of search results. Need some proof? In July of 2014, Google took a major step in this direction with the release of its Pigeon algorithm. The algorithm treats local search rankings more like traditional search rankings, taking hundreds of ranking signals into account. Pigeon also improved the way Google evaluates distance when determining rankings. The bottom line? Local SEO matters more now than ever before.”
They are effectively telling bigger corporations that they won’t win if they try to compete with local businesses because those businesses have tools in place that put them at the front of the line. Your online review sites—your Yelp, Facebook, and Google business pages—get preferential treatment when consumers research online. Online stores don’t have that advantage; you do—that is, if you use them.
Location, location, location.
Unfortunately, just having a website doesn’t cut it. If you want to rank well in Google’s local search results, you have to unlock, validate, and leverage as many of your online listings as possible. Due to the way consumers search and research, your website no longer acts as your digital front door. Your review sites do. Review sites are the most frequent first stop on the shopper journey.
Just as important as your store’s physical location is your online reputation and presence. In fact, your online presence outweighs your physical store because people are willing to drive a little further to go out of their way to visit a store that fits their needs.
The more entrenched technology becomes in our daily lives, the more consumers expect the local vendors and businesses to be available on those tools. They want more digital interactions with local retailers before they visit your physical store.
Be their first stop, so they don’t turn to online competitors as a last resort. Because when everything is online, everything is local. And when everything is local, local store owners would do well to take a more online approach to attracting customers.