Can a Pandemic Inflect Local Commerce Tech?

Could forced adoption of alternative shopping methods like curbside pickup lead to user acclimation? Will millions of shoppers get exposed to the merits of these streamlined options and like what they see? Will new habits be born that sustain throughout normal times?

If so, these technologies — along with virtual-office enablement — could benefit from this period as a blessing in disguise for exposing their value propositions. But who stands to benefit most? We’ve identified five local commerce tech areas to which this could apply.

Street Fight’s June Theme: Retail Recovery

As the country starts to re-open and recover (some places more quickly than others), we’ll shift our focus to cover specifically how that’s happening. And what better vertical to represent local business recovery than retail? It will be a leading indicator for several other local commerce verticals.

So we introduce our June editorial theme: Retail Recovery. The goal: to chronicle the steps local businesses are taking to reemerge from locked doors and empty streets. Who’s doing what, and what can we learn from them? By “them” we mean businesses and the tech providers that support them.

Can Local Commerce and Tech Work From Home?

I’ve worked from a home office since 2002. Forced into it — and initially opposed due to unfamiliarity — I didn’t like the isolation. But after acclimating, I became more productive, happier, and healthier than in any previous office job. Now, 18 years later, I may never go back.

One question is if that same realization will sink into corporate ranks now forced to #WFH. Could adjusting to working from home be a silver lining for some industries? In being forced to try new ways of doing business, could we discover habits that work better than older conventions? How might this principle play out in local businesses?

Street Fight’s May Theme: Local Commerce’s Recovery Playbook

In our own reporting and analysis (and through the words of our contributors) this month, we’ll define the playbook for local re-entry. As business ramps back up, what will best practices be for local staples such as search marketing and reputation management?

We’ve already covered how businesses are digitizing to adapt to the challenges of commerce in a time of social distancing, embracing curbside pickup, social advertising, pop-up distribution centers, online classes, and retail tech. With an even longer-term view, we’ll examine how this period of uncertainty will shape the future of local commerce.

With Stimulus Funds Delayed, Small Businesses Digitize for Survival

Experts at helping SMBs adapt to a tech-first commercial landscape say the pandemic has led some businesses to tap into their long-dormant potential as digital marketers and sellers, possibly setting them up for gains in the aftermath of the recession. Now that e-commerce is the only path to survival, mom-and-pop shops, aided by martech firms, agencies, and Silicon Valley giants, are capitalizing on cutting-edge marketing and retail techniques, many for the first time.

Thousands, if not millions, of Main Street businesses will close their doors for good as a result of the pandemic. Those that survive will be technologically savvier and sleeker than they were before.

Ad Tech Execs Weigh in on Coronavirus Ads, Google and Twitter, and Misinformation

I turned to a number of ad tech execs for their expert perspectives on the risks and rewards of digital advertising on this extraordinarily high-stakes issue. While expectedly optimistic about the benefits of coronavirus-related messaging for savvy brands, the business leaders diverged on the responsibility and capability of Google and Twitter to monitor the veracity of the content they host. They also made distinct cases for advertising at a time when brand messaging requires extra sensitivity, arguing that both brands and their customers have something to gain if businesses provide accurate information, focus on customers’ needs, and showcase the ways they are adapting in a time of crisis.

Can Emerging Tech Support Local’s New Normal?

I’ve been looking for discoveries that could be blessings in disguise. Just like remote work, these aren’t new concepts but ones that are now given the chance to shine. For example, I spend lots of time analyzing virtual reality, which could be a valuable virtual event tool.

But more to Street Fight’s main focus, what discoveries or business approaches could benefit local commerce? One of them could in fact be VR’s cousin, augmented reality. Its ability to help people visualize things or facilitate “see what I see” co-presence could help local service pros socially distance.

Businesses Find Opportunities to Fundraise, Connect Through Local Platforms

Consumers say they want to help the local businesses in their communities, and many are buying gift cards and launching GoFundMe campaigns to help their favorite restaurants, retailers, and brewpubs avoid going out of business. But restaurants and other essential businesses that remain open still need a way to let customers know how they’re selling their products and services, and how they can place orders without showing up in person.

The neighborhood social networking app Nextdoor is one of a number of platforms working on ways to ease that burden. Yelp, Facebook, and Patch are joining the fight.

Location Weekly: Unacast, Krowdthink, Inpixon Tackle Coronavirus

In this episode of Location Weekly, the Location-Based Marketing Association covers Unacast releasing a “Social Distancing Dashboard” to share how Americans are complying, Inpixon offering LBS tech to help hospitals with COVID-19, McDonald’s separating its Golden Arches in Brazil, and Yelp offering $25M in free ads to bars and restaurants. The show also features Geoff Revill, the co-founder and CEO of LBMA member company Krowdthink, who discusses the use of Community Krowd to assist the UK Home Office in the coronavirus crisis.

Local Businesses Lean Heavily on Digital Tools During Covid-19

Digital platforms like Facebook, Google, Instagram, Yelp, and Twitter have never been more important for local businesses. With 80% of customers saying they are scaling down their restaurant visits now, restaurants are in uncharted territory. Local businesses in every industry are being forced to adapt their marketing strategies on the fly and use digital channels like Google and Yelp to keep people updated on their status.

Restaurants that were previously hesitant to use delivery services are now jumping on the bandwagon, and apps like DoorDash, Instacart, and UberEats are seeing a surge in businesses using their platforms. Smaller restaurants, retailers, and other local businesses are also beginning to accept more orders through messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Larger organizations are managing an influx of customer service calls using chatbots on these same platforms.

Coronavirus and Mobile Advertising: CPMs, Sensitivity, Geographic Comparisons

The Covid-19 crisis is a challenging time for all industries, but for mobile marketers it poses a paradoxical challenge. On the one hand, people are on their phones and engaging with media as much as ever. On the other hand, the economic downturn is putting a strain on marketing budgets, employees are working from home, and messaging during a public health crisis requires unusual sensitivity.

Brian Bowman, CEO of social marketing and user acquisition firm Customer Acquisition, provided Street Fight his takes on the current state of the mobile ad market, where it’s headed in the coming weeks, and how advertisers can approach their work with consideration for the difficulty of these times.

Street Fight’s April Theme: Local Commerce in the Time of Coronavirus

We’ll devote coverage this month to the virus’ continued outbreak and its effect on local business. Of course, the airwaves and ether are already filled with pandemic coverage, and we won’t look to compete with that. Rather, we’ll be writing specifically about the crisis’ impact on local commerce, marketing, and related subjects.

In fact, we’ve already gotten started. Our March theme of reputation management barely got off the ground before we and many of our contributors came to the realization that it didn’t really feel right to talk about anything other than Covid-19. Don’t worry, we’ll give reputation management an encore performance later in the year.

This Startup Is Helping Local Stores ID Customers During COVID-19

Chatbots are helping resolve customer service issues when businesses are closed and call centers are slammed, but brick-and-mortar stores are still struggling to adapt to an online-only business format. Pure play ecommerce outlets have spent years developing systems to manage transactions and verify customer identities, but most retailers on Main Street are accustomed to seeing shoppers in person and visually checking IDs.

A San Francisco-based startup called Persona is offering to help those local businesses adapt by giving away its online ID verification service for free during the COVID-19 crisis.

7 Delivery Apps Keeping Restaurants, Grocers Afloat During COVID-19

Dozens of states have banned dine-in service at restaurants, and nearly as many are requiring retailers to close up shop in a bid to slow down the coronavirus outbreak. As local businesses deal with the enormous financial implications that come with closing down to customers, many are trying out delivery services for the very first time.

For restaurants and other local businesses interested in offering their products via on-demand delivery, here are seven delivery platforms with which local businesses can partner during the Covid-19 crisis.

Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, Accurate Location Data Can Save Hassles and Even Lives

Updating your location data management information to reflect new hours, store closures, different contact information or special announcements is important for business success in general. In the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic, maintaining accurate location data can actually have vital consequences for public health.

Yet a BrandMuscle study found that less than 60% of local business owners had even claimed their online business listings, which can lead to confusion about whether businesses are open or not. 

Location Weekly: Using Location Data to Track Covid-19

In this episode of Location Weekly, the Location-Based Marketing Association covers Turkish firm Elektral developing vending machine for masks, wipes, and disinfectants; UNL raising $2M for smart address system; Wuhan bringing its famous Cherry Blossoms online; and Israeli startup Noveto bringing “smart audio bubbles” to digital signage. The episode also features a special discussion on using location data to track the virus.

Brandify Launches Covid-19 Updates Page

We are not the only ones helping businesses with online communication at this critical time, and businesses themselves need to know the latest so they can craft flexible and responsive strategies. With that in mind, we’ve decided to publish our tracking sheet on changes to local business marketing channels as a new webpage called “COVID-19 Local Search Updates,” live on our website today. We will keep it up to date, and we hope you’ll find it useful.

E-Commerce Booms While Hospitality, Restaurants Suffer Amid Covid-19 Concerns

Early trends in consumer coronavirus behavior indicate that the already fast-growing e-commerce sector may see an added boost over the next few months as people avoid in-door shopping to practice social distancing during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Media and marketing services firm ENGINE is conducting 1,000-person online surveys of representative samples of US consumers every few days to gauge changes in consumer sentiment and behavior as the quickly accelerating outbreak develops. The firm found that while 31% of consumers said they were increasing their online shopping in surveys conducted March 13-15 and 16-17, 42% said the same March 20-22, a 35% increase.

Womply, FundRocket Launch SMB Stimulus Program

While Congress continues to deliberate on a stimulus package that will provide as much as $400 billion in aid and loans for small businesses, tech companies that serve SMBs are stepping in to offer their own assistance packages. Among them is reputation management, CRM, and email software firm Womply, which has launched an SMB stimulus program in collaboration with its capital partner, FundRocket. 

Location Leaders Step Up to the Plate

During the Covid-19 outbreak, we’re seeing tech companies step up to the plate in a mixture of altruistic and opportunistic moves. That’s everything from Comcast removing data caps to Amazon removing its paywall for streaming kids shows. But what about local specifically? Again, that’s where businesses are getting hit most.

We’ve seen moves in the local space over the past week from Facebook, Yelp, and Foursquare. Though there are several others, we’ll drill down on this representative sample. We’ll also give a shoutout to Google for its work to free up human and compute resources for local listings updates, covered Monday by Damian Rollison.