Getting customers to buy local, rather than with a few clicks from an online megastore, is becoming increasingly difficult. However, people still want to shop near them, it’s just a matter of connecting them to what they need.
Online shopping is increasingly popular and is said to be driving the number of brick-and-mortar stores down. Some estimates putt the number of high-street shops closing at 14 a day in the first half of 2018. However, the latest statistics show that the number of people searching for places to shop close to their homes is actually increasing in the UK. But, in order to find these local stores, customers still turn to the internet.
This is where NearSt steps in. Originally imagined as a standalone platform, it has recently joined forces with Google so shoppers can see which local shops stock a product, how close they are and even how much stock each store holds.
NearSt uses proprietary technology to connect to the in-store Point of Sale systems’ “Real-Time Local Inventory data”. This inventory data can then be used with online platforms so shoppers can search products or stores near them.
What does this mean for farm shops?
NearSt claims to be able to help local shops in several ways. Firstly, if a shop joins the platform they are given a storefront page on the NearSt site. This acts like many other similar platforms that business owners may have seen before, with lists of products, prices, etc., which allows customers to shop online. What sets it apart is the fact that NearSt taps into a shop’s POS meaning products are automatically updated with no need for manual data entry.
Additionally, the POS connection allows Google to display product levels when people search for an item that is stocked or for the name of a shop in the NearSt network. This, according to NearSt, attracts nearby customers and boosts local awareness.
However, while the theory behind it is solid, it may not hold up as well in practice. Firstly, when checking out the “live example” given by NearSt and Google, which is linked on their site, no products or even links to products were displayed. This is a little concerning, but could be teething problems as the partnership with Google is relatively recent.
Additionally, the usefulness of POS information and shop size must be considered. Many small, local shops may not use a POS system as they are costly, and, with limited product ranges, just not necessary. This means that many stores that would be considered truly local cannot join the NearSt network without a considerable amount of time and money invested into their systems and training.
At the same time, larger stores will probably have a POS system, but anyone who has worked with one knows that it doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality on the shop floor. Products can be misplaced, lost or broken without being taken off the system resulting in incorrect figures. While this normally results in stock not being ordered, or fruitless searches, if a customer can check the levels and goes to a store expecting a product that isn’t there, it could lead to some tricky customer relations situations.
All that considered, this is an innovative way of getting shoppers back on the high streets of the UK. What is key with a project like this is growing a large enough network, with more shops joining making it more likely that people will use the service and thus find the local products they need.