With the pandemic, the whole world started to embrace ecommerce while making a stance for the local store (“Support your locals!”). This may only seem like a contradiction.
Over the past couple of years, omnichannel has been trending as digital channels became a critical part of the customer journey. Consumers not only bought things online but, more importantly, also gathered local information digitally and checked out reviews, etc. A fair share of those activities resulted in a local experience, for example a store visit.
The rise of ‘near me’ searches supports this notion and it was a good thing as it liberated consumers, opening up new ways to discover their neighbourhoods and the whole world.
However, the pandemic put a spanner in the works of this liberty and Uberall wanted to better understand how it affected the customer journey and local businesses. As a result, its research team has published a report called ‘The New Face of Local’, for which they spoke to various marketing specialists (Moz, SOCi, Thalia and more) and 4,000 consumers worldwide, and analysed around 80,000 mid-market business locations on Google via the Uberall database.
The data and insights lead to one main conclusion: yes, we live in an omnichannel world. It’s more real than ever.
There are three underlying observations that explain this.
1. Local engagements in the UK Grew 42% in 2020 Despite Covid
With the rise of the pandemic, it was no surprise that consumers would naturally embrace ecommerce, as it was either safer or the only way to shop for some time.
Looking at the data on Google My Business locations, it’s surprising to see that local engagements increased: online interactions with local businesses in the UK jumped by 42%.
This means that, where one UK business listing on average got 427 conversion-critical clicks in 2019 (ie clicks on directions, website, phone call), it gained 607 in 2020.
The big jump, however, is not due to many more consumers visiting stores or business locations last year, it is due to the fact that clicks on websites almost doubled from 2019 to 2020 – from an average of 175 to 313 website clicks per listing.
Interestingly, a website click can lead to several different actions. Consumers might gather more information about a business, buy something online, book a meeting, use click-and-collect. Bottom line: consumers were indeed looking for local experiences but engaged with a business in safer ways during the pandemic.
2. Local consumers prefer hybrid experiences
When Uberall surveyed over 4,000 consumers worldwide, it found that their preferences have diversified in a way that bridges the gap between online and offline even more.
There is still a big share of consumers (37%) who prefer to shop locally while 17% prefer to shop completely online. However, almost two-fifths would either prefer to check a product out in the store and buy it online, or vice-versa by using click-and-collect – and, by that token, use different channels in a complementary fashion.
This behaviour is reinforced with 76% consumers agreeing, or potentially agreeing, that they’d rather buy something online if they can return it to a store.
Only 19% of consumers say they’d do most of their shopping online after Covid. It is still less than the 43% of consumers that will go to stores. However, a third are agnostic about the channel and base their decision on criteria like pricing, availability, and convenience.
What the results indicate: the customer journey has become more hybrid, as consumers make use of digital channels to convert online or offline as they see fit.
This also indicates that consumers will expect more options to engage with a business to make a purchase – for example via click-and-collect, click-and-meet, home delivery, etc.
3. Some businesses already benefit from omnichannel tactics
Let’s go back to the local engagements – the ones that grew by 42% in the UK. Uberall’s research team had a look at those engagements on a global level as well and segmented the data according to the most critical industries.
They found that some industries did grow their local engagements last year: retail, finance and B2B and general services were indeed able to increase local clicks – mainly clicks on phone calls and websites as opposed to clicks on directions.
By contrast, business locations that belong to the industries of travel, social and entertainment or food were more strongly affected by the pandemic and gained far fewer clicks than before.
There seems to be a pattern behind this: the more a business could digitalise its offering and bridge the online-offline gap, the better it could attract and engage local customers.
For retail, this would be ecommerce in general and also innovative ideas like click-and-collect. Finance providers and B2B or service businesses were able to offer click-and-meet, online meetings, online forms, etc.
This also depicts an interesting shift in the way marketers look at the business location as a channel. It became less the centre of marketing activities but more the most critical asset a business can have.
The store co-exists with digital channels and services, complementing the customer expectations that mostly ask for local experiences.
How can businesses embrace the new face of local?
As Uberall spoke to various marketing experts in the past couple of months, it noted two general recommendations that marketers need to be aware of:
- Adapt quickly to the real omnichannel world: Consumers might well go back to old habits and enjoy the local experience of shopping, eating, etc, but will continue to use a lot of the new conveniences that digitalisation and, more specifically, the pandemic brought to life.
- Be present wherever your customers are: Consumers intensively use their smart devices to find information about businesses and take action. It will be critical for businesses to focus on what their customers want and where they can reach them.
Businesses with a local component are required to engage with consumers wherever they are looking for products and services online (Google, Apple Maps, Facebook, etc) and allow them to proceed with their customer journey the way they want (store visit, ecommerce, click-and-collect).
In the new report ‘The New Face of Local’, you’ll find more data insights regarding consumer expectations and local business performance. Also, there’s a collection of the most critical best practices from marketing specialists who embraced omnichannel. Get your copy of the report and check out the data and best practices to inform your marketing strategy. You can download the report here.