Report: Local Merchants Embrace Digital, but Need Plenty of Help

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Local merchants have embraced an ever-widening range of digital marketing tactics, from mobile targeting to online scheduling tools. They deem them more effective than traditional channels — yet most aren’t measuring the effectiveness of their marketing efforts well, opening the door for suppliers.

To that end, Street Fight Insights teamed up with Thrive Analytics to survey 500+ small business owners in the U.S. to better understand their usage of and attitudes toward digital marketing and e-commerce. Suppliers of marketing technology and services can use the results of our analysis, presented in The Local Merchant 2015 report, to align their strategies with merchant hot-button issues, and best assist them where they lack expertise or resources.

In the connected local economy, digital techniques will be the primary means of navigation for the customer journey everyone talks about. At the same time, physical-world commerce infrastructure is about to be seriously outdated. Nearly twice as many small businesses use digital marketing techniques like online advertising, search, and email as use local newspapers or yellow pages. More important, they label the digital marketing tactics higher in effectiveness than print, and budget accordingly. Most concentrate on acquiring new customers, perhaps at the expense of conversion and retention.

But whether they’re local services, retailers, or restaurants, these merchants are busy running their businesses. They can’t afford to devote as much time or resources to marketing as they likely need. Merchants told us that lack of time (42% of survey respondents) was their biggest digital marketing challenge, with budget and expertise each cited by a third of respondents. Similarly, over half (51%) complained that managing social media was too time-consuming. And even though nearly two-thirds use social media for marketing, a shocking 38% said they hadn’t seen any return on their social spending.

Where merchants need help

As illustrated above, when presented with a list of marketing tactics and asked to specify where they needed the most help, no clear category emerged. About a quarter noted SEO, social, and website/e-commerce each, but eight other areas — including some traditional print-centric ones — scored double-digit responses.

That diversity of needs mandates that marketing suppliers offer a rich collection of services. Since there’s no silver bullet, service providers need flexible marketing programs and, in most cases, and educated direct sales and support organizations to guide business owners.

While mobile marketing is the new New Thing, it’s not top-of-mind for many small businesses. It’s on their radar, but they’re equally interested in the newer breed of point-of-sale systems. Much of the discussion in hyperlocal is about media, but commerce is always the desired end result. The connected local economy is hungry for simpler, cheaper ways to connect dots between marketing and transacting, and any investment in commerce infrastructure or cloud services will have to support that.

David Card is Street Fight’s director of research.

Click here to purchase a copy of The Local Merchant Report 2015. Plus: Free webinar on key insights and strategies from the report. Register here.