Reflections on 2020 in Local: Innovation by Necessity

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Opinions and predictions are like… well, you know the rest of the saying. Given the tumultuous year and the tumult to come, I am not going to get into predictions or forecasting for the local business landscape in 2021.

However, based on Localogy research, our collective work in the field, and our members’ thoughts and innovations, we have tracked a significant market evolution in just a few short months — both for SMBs and the consumers they serve. 

Multi-channel is a game changer 

A staggering 100,000+ SMBs have shuttered during the various phases of the pandemic. Those that have endured have done so by investing in a multi-channel engagement and delivery approach that caters to the changing buying behaviors of the consumer. This approach must also cope with fluid Covid-19 regulations and shut-down phases.

Even when lockdowns subside and vaccinations are widely distributed, consumers will look to the flexibility of distribution and delivery mechanisms – thanks to technology platforms – for placing orders online, picking them up in person, or tracking orders from preparation to delivery. 

Personal means personal

We’ve heard for years about personalization and relevancy contributing to the overall customer experience. However, most of the time this is a generalized personalization that often contributes to the collective consumer.

During Covid-19, consumers have become more impatient, highly convenience-focused, and a lot more savvy about their individual path-to-purchase. This means local businesses and the technologies that support them need to recognize what “personalized” really means.

As an example, convenience may be the deciding factor for patronage for one customer, while another might be more concerned about price. Rich data analytics and insights are critical as they build and reinforce customer loyalty by improving personalization and enriching customer experience and engagement efforts. 

Tech-driven health and safety

While QR codes, curbside, and in-person pick-up technologies have been in existence for years, main street adoption of them pre-pandemic was far slower than for chains and big-box retailers. Fortuitously, TripAdvisor acquired Endurance International Group’s SinglePlatform digital menu technology about a year ago, and Yelp developed an electronic waitlist feature – laying the groundwork for local business innovation during Covid.

SMBs have been quick to recognize that these technologies help bring a new level of health-related safety and comfort for consumers. Many restaurants, ranging from family-owned to small regional chains, have quickly adopted QR codes to share digital menus and apps with electronic waitlists to help consumers safely dine in-house or grab meals on the go. 

By implementing new technologies, restaurants have been able to adapt to the changing world around them. And by virtue of focusing on the customer experience in a variety of different ways, they have evolved to provide even higher levels of service and conduct business in the pandemic world. 

Straightforward innovations on the rise

A whole host of startups have recently emerged that aren’t terribly fancy or sophisticated but solve age-old issues for SMBs in a progressive way. Take Melio for instance. Launched in 2018, the business payment startup set out to rectify the issue of cashflow. The company has seen incredible adoption despite Covid as local businesses and SMBs have flocked to their simple yet effective solution to ease the burden of payments for cash and resource-strapped businesses. 

From a big-picture perspective, innovative tech providers are recognizing that SMBs don’t need all the bells and whistles that may come with an enterprise solution. They need tech that solves critical everyday problems that are common across the local landscape. 

There’s no denying that the pandemic and lockdowns have adversely impacted individuals and local businesses across the globe. However, as technologies evolve and companies adapt, there is no doubt that the local landscape will make a significant resurgence and thrive thanks to human ingenuity and good old-fashioned perseverance. 

Bill Dinan is president of Localogy.

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