Buy local campaigns finding new tools

Jan 14, 2014

While many "buy local" campaigns seem to rely on a sticker in a window or a rare event-driven day (American Express Small Business Saturday), loyalty cards, gift cards and community websites are emerging to throw wider support to the cause.

None of the initiatives are widespread and some are brand new, but here are a few notable examples:

  • Gift cards: "Open loop" gift cards are being offered in San Francisco, Oakland, Madison, Boulder, Portland, OR, and Portland, ME. Gift cards with allotments from $5.00 to $500.00 "can be spent at a large variety of merchants, and only at those select merchants," according to the website serving Portland, ME.
  • Loyalty cards: Go Local is a loyalty card website that’s currently been established in around a dozen cities, including Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Austin and Sonoma. Members gain "instant rewards just for frequenting your favorite local shops" while independent stores can customize offers "to bring more loyal customers through the door."
  • Community e-tail website: The E.Vil Mall website congregates a bunch of independent stores in the East Village in downtown Manhattan into an e-commerce store. Home to the defunct CBGBs, the late Andy Warhol, and early eastern hippie culture, the website name — — plays up the area’s anti-capitalist vibe.

While other areas appear to equally gain some benefit from their memorable neighborhoods and iconic local shops, the just-launched E.Vil Mall website believes it is positioned to particularly benefit from its reputation as the "center of counterculture in New York."

The East Village serves 65,000 students attending NYU, Cooper Union, The New School as well as another "young professionals, a bevy of celebrities, immigrants, street kids, and old-timers." But a big part of the opportunity is reaching those who have left the neighborhood.

"Part of our core audience is what I call ‘East Village alumni’ — people who used to live here but have since moved upstate to start a family," website founder, Jonathan Hollinger, told the New York Post.

Marketing messages behind the initiatives can add more meaning to the principle of shopping local. They include keeping money in the local economy, preserving a city’s diversity and distinctive flavor, lessening the eco-impact of travel, and tapping the know-how of those who understand the community’s needs better than major conglomerates.

As Go Local’s marketing efforts states, "To a local business owner, a customer isn’t just another face in the crowd, but a neighbor — somebody they might run into walking their dog around Town Lake or taking their kid to ukulele practice."

Do gift cards, loyalty cards or community websites offer the most potential for independents to support “buy local” efforts? What do you see as the pros and cons of each option?

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7 Comments on "Buy local campaigns finding new tools"

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Bob Phibbs

If we’re hearing anything at NRF beside the growth of omnichannel, iBeacon and payment options, it is localization. Independents can run rings around big boxes because they are not just in the neighborhood, they usually live there and have their finger on the pulse of the community.

Especially in the East Village – they know their customer likes and dislikes and while gentrification may scare them, tapping into those who are inclined to shop local with community websites is preferable to – once again – giving discounts.

Ian Percy
To go slightly off topic… The buy local angle is a worthy but minor manifestation of a much bigger and more important issue. I doubt there’s a city in North America that’s not trying to transform, or at least revitalize, itself. “Buy local” is but a single tool. Two things are being missed in the good effort. The major obstacle to city transformation is the lack of citizen engagement – and that from the Mayor’s Association. In a city close to me, ONE citizen showed up at the Town Hall meeting to hear about the city’s “strategic plan.” That was years ago and they haven’t held one since. In our typical entitlement mindset we’d much rather sit back and whine about “them” not fixing our problems. Until the PEOPLE become engaged don’t expect too much of significance. Still, some are trying to make a difference through initiatives like Buy Local. Most cities have many pockets of effort like this and that leads to the second obstacle to city transformation. In most cities there is almost zero alignment among those efforts. It’s like trying to build a fire by spreading out the logs. Transformational energies must be aligned and focused on… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann

One of the foundational elements in creating and building a brand is being able to identify and tell a great story. Creative and terrific storytelling that resonates with an audience in turn creates a community. What better way than to begin with a community and tell the story around the members of that community?

The history of New York’s East Village is rich with meaningful stories waiting to be told. Using digital communication channels to distribute those stories and weave them into the financial support of those communities is extremely powerful.

There is a great opportunity for local businesses to connect with the local community with the use of user generated content. Everyone has the ability to take a photo or video with their mobile device and share their stories through social media. What about creating a ‘wiki’ type experience built upon the insights, stories, history and perspectives of a particular community?

The challenge is organizing enough local merchants and retailers and maintaining the viability and relevancy of this digital community. Regardless of the tactic, it is imperative to always make certain it brings ongoing real value to the audience.

Steve Montgomery

Gift cards offer the most promise for those living in the market. It allows the giver to acknowledge that the recipient shops in an area, but allows them to select where and what they buy. Once purchased, it will result in sales in the local market.

Websites offer the advantage to those who live outside the area to makes purchases. However, to have impact, the area has to be somewhere like the East Village, where people strongly identify with the area whether they still live there or not.

Karen S. Herman

One of the biggest challenges an independent retailer faces is awareness of their store and on the local level, in most instances, customers are neighbors.

A good gift card program, to acquire that neighbor and bring them in-store, combined with a loyalty card to retain their business, makes good marketing sense.

The broader extension of this marketing strategy is the potential that neighbor/customer has to share gift cards and recommend the loyalty program to friends, family and through social media channels.

It is in this context that gift cards and loyalty cards can effectively support independent retailers.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
3 years 8 months ago

Focusing on purchasing “locally-grown” food products seems like a lot of personal maintenance for busy people, even locavores. Restaurants do extremely well buying locally, a trend pioneered by Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. But in supermarkets, not so much. Here in California we do OK finding local stuff, but in Kansas (my home state), try finding locally-grown lettuce or grapes in February. Ribeyes, yes. Asparagus, no.

Independent supermarkets (I was with Fleming Foods for ten years and SuperValu for three) definitely should buy from local guys in season. Our stores did, and they made out well. They even sponsored products from local restaurants (all seasons) in addition to supporting local and regional farmers and ranchers. They were, and remain, true entrepreneurs.

If I owned an independent supermarket, I’d concentrate on selling local products and promoting them in any way I could, even with gift/loyalty cards and local internet, too. In the French, “entrepreneur” means that I’d be one who undertakes a task (“entrepren”) in enterprise (“prendere”). I’d be a task-oriented, enterprising machine.

Doug Fleener

I always felt like most buy local approaches almost quilted the customer into buying local. The person who works at the national chain needs their job just as much as the local where the money stays in the community.

So that’s why I love this approach. It’s emotionally connecting the customer to the community, and more important there is a true benefit to the consumer.


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