The employees are present, the tables are bussed, and the shelves are stocked. Now where are all the paying customers? Most businesses have slow periods or times of the day when they’d be willing to sell their products or services at a discount rather than let their inventory go to waste. The challenge, it seems, is finding the best way to do that.
New hyperlocal platforms aim to address this problem with real-time deals and offers targeted to potential customers in the immediate vicinity. By offering limited-time promotions during off-peak periods, small businesses get new customers through the door without displacing faithful regulars. Local merchants are often willing to accept the trade-off — which involves taking significant cuts off the prices of the goods and services they sell — if it means putting employees to work and unloading perishable products before they go bad.
Here are seven platforms that can help drive business during off-peak times.
Developed as a way to help businesses attract the right customers at the right times, ThinkNear is a great solution for SMBs looking to increase foot traffic during certain hours of the day. Merchants tell ThinkNear what types of discounts they’re willing to offer and what hours are typically the slowest, and ThinkNear uses this information — combined with an algorithm that takes weather, holidays, and special events into account — to send targeted deals to people using smartphones nearby. In exchange for paying a $99 monthly fee, merchants are guaranteed that their ads will be seen by at least 5,000 mobile phone users. ThinkNear CEO Eli Portnoy says the service works best for restaurants, salons, spas, and other businesses in large-margin industries.
Chalkboard is a hyperlocal network that uses mobile ads to help small and medium-size businesses increase foot traffic. Businesses experiencing a slump in sales can visit their Chalkboard account and type in the name of a new promotion, like half-off drinks or a 2-for-1 spa special. These promotions are instantly displayed on third-party mobile applications (like Friendly for the iPad) being used by people within a “few mile radius” of the merchant, as well as websites in the Chalkboard network. Merchants can run as many promotions as they want for a flat fee that ranges from $0.99 to $2.99 per day.
Small business owners interested in real-time marketing efforts are perfectly suited for Closely. The daily deal, social promotion, and mobile marketing platform gives SMBs the tools to publish offers and sell purchase-ready coupons on demand. Closely then delivers those deals to nearby consumers and promotes them on relevant social networks. A nail salon suffering from a rainy day sales slump can publish an instant deal to boost immediate traffic, while a restaurant that seems slow on Mondays can set up recurring deals that only run on that day each week. Closely doesn’t publish its exact pricing, but a rep for the company says it provides merchants services in the $50 to $200 per month range, with a 25% to 35% share of deal revenue.
4. Groupon Now!
Merchants who want to take advantage of the Groupon craze without getting in over their heads are using Groupon Now! to post limited-time deals for customers nearby. Local merchants can schedule their deals in advance to run during slow times of the day — like 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., for example. Once a deal closes, merchants get a check for the proceeds of the promotion, minus Groupon’s commission fee. Customers who fail to redeem their vouchers during these limited time slots can get full refunds, which means businesses don’t profit from unredeemed deal vouchers like they do with traditional Groupon deals.
5. LivingSocial Instant Deals
Remarkably similar to Groupon Now!, Instant Deals is LivingSocial’s take on real-time promotions. The service is best for merchants who’ve worked with LivingSocial before and enjoyed the experience. Deals are live for a short period of time, and they’re sent out to people using the LivingSocial mobile app within a half-mile radius. Merchants using Instant Deals don’t have to offer discounts as substantial as they would with a traditional deal, although LivingSocial still recommends that businesses offer deals that are at least 30%-off. Like Groupon Now!, LivingSocial Instant Deals requires no upfront costs and sends merchants their cut of the deals once the redemption period has closed.
Businesses that already use Foursquare as a loyalty rewards platform can leverage the service to attract customers during certain days or times by varying the check-in rewards and incentives they offer. Cafes wanting to boost their early morning sales can offer time-sensitive specials between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., while retailers looking to get more people through their doors on a holiday weekend can offer charity donations for each check-in on specific days. Foursquare’s tools are free, which means the only costs merchants incur are based on the specific discounts and rewards they give to customers.
Most text messages are read within four minutes of receipt, which is why Qwikon believes that SMS marketing is the single fastest way to get real-time promotions in the hands of loyal consumers. The company provides merchants with all the tools necessary to gather contact information from customers in their neighborhoods. Once this information has been collected, merchants can blast out SMS offers any time they’re slow. Qwikon says 95% of these offers are opened within minutes, and the response rate ranges from 10% to 20%. Pricing for Qwikon is based on the number of messages sent per month, and varies from $49 to $249.
Know of other hyperlocal platforms that merchants can use to drive business during slow periods? Leave a description in the comments.