Consumers plan to patronize more local businesses in the coming year -- and they’re seeking specific experiences from those companies. Those are some of the findings from a survey of more than 6,000 U.S. consumers conducted by online marketing company Yodle, headquartered in New York City. We asked Paul Bascobert, president of local at Yodle, to explain what startups can learn from the data and how they can improve the experience of local customers.
Why are consumers purposely seeking local businesses?
People want better relationships with their business providers. Local businesses don’t necessarily compete on price but on their ability to provide a certain level of service and personalized experience to their customers. It’s why customers buy, and it’s why many are using local vs. large national competitors.
How can entrepreneurs meet that expectation?
If you want to differentiate yourself, you have to understand not just what customers want from a product or service, but how they want that product or service delivered and the kind of relationship they want to have with your company. Technology has advanced such that it’s pretty easy for people to connect with their small-business partners and, similarly, for small businesses to connect with their customers. There’s a wide range of opportunities—including online communications, social media and customer reviews—for small businesses to play up their service, locality and personalization, as well as how important customers are to a smaller business, relative to a big company.
What mistakes do you see businesses make when trying to capture a local audience?
A big one is not providing a professional, comprehensive online experience. It’s so important to build your reputation across many different channels, directories and listings, particularly as you’re starting up. That often gets neglected by new companies. And when I talk about online presence, it really has to be thought of as mobile. I believe in 2015, for the first time, more searches are going to be done for local business on mobile than on desktop. Particularly in services that are location-based, having a strong mobile presence is critical.
Where did your research uncover missed opportunities for small businesses?
The most significant thing I saw in our survey was the gap in reviews. Our data showed that three-quarters of people expect reviews—they have moved from something that was interesting and new a few years ago to mainstream and expected today. But while 90 percent of customers said they would be interested in providing reviews, only 7 percent have actually ever been asked. There is a market expectation that reviews will be provided, and a pretty dramatic willingness on the part of individuals to provide reviews, yet very few small businesses are taking advantage of that.
What’s the next trend in local?
Online booking, scheduling and payments seem to be the next things that are coming. Companies like Uber are setting expectations for consumers that they will be able—on a mobile device—to find a provider, look at a provider, see their reviews, transact, close the transaction, leave a rating and get a record of that transaction, all in a very seamless and easy-to-use interface. So you can expect that this expectation that’s been set by the consumer is going to find its way to other local providers.