Study: 17 minutes defines local

Jun 02, 2014

While Bass Pro says its average customer drives 50-plus miles to visit one of its experiential stores, a new study finds that consumers are willing to drive just 16 minutes to reach a local "general store."

The study from BrightLocal, a local SEO provider, explored, "Just how ‘local’ do you need to be to attract new customers." It surveyed over 800 consumers across 13 business categories, looking at how much time they were willing to spend in a car to support a local business.

The lengthiest time was for visiting a wedding shop (23 minutes), followed by doctor/dentist (21 minutes), apparel store (20 minutes), and specialist shop (18 minutes). At the low end was yoga class and gym, with respondents only willing to put up with a drive time of 12 minutes. Pub/bar and hair salon both came in at 14 minutes. The general store/shop ranking of 16 minutes was close to the 17 minutes on average consumers were willing to travel to a local business.

The study found little difference in drive-time impatience among age groups, although younger consumers were found to be willing to travel slightly longer to visit a wedding shop while older ones were willing to travel longer to reach an accountant.

While small differences were also seen among genders, the study found women would travel on average:

  • Five minutes longer to visit a local wedding shop;
  • Four minutes longer in to visit a local clothes shop;
  • Five minutes longer to visit a local hair/beauty salon;
  • Three minutes longer for local yoga class/alternative therapies.

On a blog post, Ross Marchant, BrightLocal’s marketing manager, acknowledged that consumers in remote areas would naturally be willing to travel much further to reach a "local" establishment versus those in urban areas.

But the study overall concluded that some local stores may be overestimating their local pull.

"Our survey shows that the community often doesn’t reciprocate that demand if location dictates anything more than the shortest of car journeys," said Mr. Marchant in a statement. "This research really highlights just how local businesses need to think when it comes to marketing their business — even a neighborhood twenty minutes away could be a block or two too far."

How do you think most consumers define local? Are stores overestimating or underestimating the reach of their local marketing efforts?

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19 Comments on "Study: 17 minutes defines local"

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Chris Petersen, PhD.

The perception of distance lies in the eyes of the consumers, and where they live.

In the vast rural west, “local” may mean driving 100 miles or more to a preferred shop. There are also specialty retailers like the huge NFM stores that command a trading radius of 500 miles or more due to the breadth and specialization of their assortment.

In communities with established stores, the research does suggest that consumers are less willing to travel to reach a store, especially a type of store for which there are multiple local options.

The conundrum for the local community retailer is that omni-channel is the new normal. Today’s consumers shop anytime and everywhere. To compete for walk-in traffic, the local store must “localize marketing.” But if the store has an effective web site and can ship products, there literally are no boundaries to the size of the market.

Dick Seesel

The BrightLocal study appears to generalize based on a small sample size of 800 respondents. The definition of “local” will vary greatly from market to market: Surely a New Yorker’s definition is far different from a consumer who lives in a sprawling market where long drive times are the norm. (Think L.A., Dallas and many others.) And the definition of “local” also depends on the type of store: Consumers may be able to drive 20 miles to the nearest Costco store, but only a few blocks to the closest Walgreens or Starbucks.

It would take far more data to convince me that 17 minutes is somehow a “magic number.”

Steve Montgomery

The study indicates that local is defined by two factors, driving time and type of retailer. A third factor mentioned is the difference urban versus rural environments can have.

I would state that as it goes with many things, local appears to be in the eye of the beholder. My favor local pizza shop is 20 minutes away, but my neighbors consider that too far to go for a take home pizza.

To determine whether or not a retailer is overreaching in their marketing efforts, it will require that they collect data about where their customers come from. There are lots of potential sources for this data, including some as simple as rewarding customers for putting a pin in a map on an easel in the store. With this information, the retailer can determine what is local from their existing customer base and if their marketing efforts match their customers’ perception of local.

Ken Lonyai

Most every town has a pizzeria, drug store, accountant, etc. So for commodity type businesses, it really takes special services or a stellar reputation to get people to drive “far.” Driving an extra 10 minutes for the really good pizza or settling for the local meh pizza doesn’t compare with driving to the antique clock dealer 100 miles away that just got in a rare piece that you collect.

Bass Pro is an example of how to win at retail and fend off e-commerce. A store that provides a unique experience and not only keeps people away from household name, online merchants, but also gets people into their cars to have an outing. Experiential is an investment, but it wins on both fronts, non-local and non-digital.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Interesting study. However, the metric is time, not physical miles traveled. Would be useful to view by urban, suburban and rural. In any event, it appears as though for high-involvement purchases, weddings, doctors/dentists and financial advice, the time traveled increases. No results are provided for food retailers. However, I suspect that if measured, the time traveled would be on the low end.

Giacinta Shidler
Giacinta Shidler
3 years 5 months ago

As others have said, this can vary a LOT based on the density of the market and the availability of other options. I’ve got 3 grocery stores within 10 minutes of my home, so a 17 minute trip even for a specialty grocery is usually too much of a hassle.

The challenge for a retailer is to engage with their local residents and community. A retailer engenders loyalty by differentiating themselves, offering something that their competitors can’t match and that the consumer finds of value.

Dan Raftery

In geographic terms, I think consumers define “local” very differently depending on where they live. Urbanites might consider a few block neighborhood as local. Suburbanites might think in terms of a township. And rural folks probably thik in terms of the closest town.

Travel time or traffic congestion might be a more accurate measure. And don’t forget about the commuters who frequent stores on their paths between work and home. Is that local?

Ben Ball

While there are certainly variations in population density and exceptions for “destination stores,” the overall conclusion of this study rings true. Average retailers are probably overestimating their shopping ring in their marketing efforts. The more routine a shopping occasion, the more the key driver of outlet selection is convenience. And the number one driver of convenience is proximity. Maybe all retailers should attend real estate marketing classes. Location, location, location.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Naomi K. Shapiro
3 years 5 months ago

There’s nothing fishy about Bass Pro Shops hitting on all cylinders here. First, you can’t compare apples and oranges. Apples are the time, physical miles, content, ubiquity, and similarity or difference among places within a certain radius. (And, yes, it is relative depending on where you live — urban or rural, east, west, central or south).

Oranges are that Bass Pro Shops is a completely different category than any of the others — few stores, regionally located, providing extraordinary, one-of-a-kind experiences for a specialized target audience that’ll travel many miles for the entertainment, education, prestige, lifestyle value, etc. The brand already means something to most of them, so they’re not going there by chance. Also, once you’re there, it is an easy step to buy lots of products to make the trip worthwhile.

Liz Crawford

I love this study! What a great reality check for retailers – for both chains and mom & pops. The distance a customer is willing to drive is a measure of the intangible benefit they derive from the store. It’s a great metric.

Larry Negrich

Apple, oranges, fishing poles and wedding dresses. This content marketing project disguised as research doesn’t provide much real data with which to answer their stated premise. However, the question of what constitutes local and what size net should a retailer spend their marketing dollar to cast is interesting. Given to the right research firm, this subject might yield some actionable data.

I would bet that there are numerous factors including promotions, proximity to alternatives, price, convenience, and a host of others that come into play when a consumer is deciding how much time they will spend to travel to a retailer.

Sid Raisch
Sid Raisch
3 years 5 months ago

The researchers probably tried to come up with valid data so I won’t debate that. Retailers have a tendency to over-estimate their reach based on “retail legends” of customers coming from three states away as compared to their own data.

The importance of even a small amount of business from outlying customers though is critical to the math of most businesses, especially if they are spending a disproportionate fortune to reach them. The challenge is to affordably market to outlying customers. The Internet has certainly made this achievable by lowering the expense with email and social media.

Christopher P. Ramey

Consumers don’t define local; they experience desire. Their desire has to be greater than the hassle of travel.

Bass Pro, Gander and Disney master the art. Most everybody else is just hoping they’re convenient to sell stuff.

James Tenser

Travel time is just one of a half-dozen dimensions of time-saving convenience that shoppers weigh when they plan their trips. Physical distance is a key factor in travel time, but a lot depends on the neighborhood.

From my suburban digs at the edge of Tucson, it’s a five-mile trip to the nearest pharmacy and supermarket — drive time about 10 minutes. When I lived in Queens, NY years ago, it took 30 minutes to get my car from the building garage to the only nearby supermarket that had a parking lot — 2.4 miles away.

This report correctly observes that much depends on the trip mission. Travel times have local norms too. So it’s incumbent upon businesses to adapt their marketing to at least those two dimensions.

Experts in retail site selection do quite a bit of analysis of these matters, using GIS and population density data to draw bulls-eye or amoeba-shaped maps around prospective store locations.

To me, numerical averages seem to be of limited use for marketing decision makers. But “nearest” certainly will define some convenience oriented trip missions, while “best for me” may define others — like the bridal shop or furniture mart. Disseminate your marketing messages accordingly.

Craig Sundstrom

Aside from the caveats others have noted – varies by type of business, “magic number” of 17 is an oversimplification, etc. – I have a problem with the basic question asked (“How much time are you prepared to drive for to visit a local business?”): “As long as it takes” would seem to be the answer, if the choice of no visit at all isn’t open. Maybe a better question would be “how long are you willing to drive to reach a second business if you don’t like your local one?”

Ralph Jacobson

Is anyone thinking of “Location, Location, Location”? A store has to be actually very bad for one reason or another for shoppers to pass it up for a competitor. That also highlights the loyalty of that competitor, and those trends needs to be analyzed and capitalized upon. I think most stores do overestimate their “pull.”

Kai Clarke

Local is actually determined not just by distance, but by locale. Consumers are willing to drive longer distances, when their frame of reference includes driving longer distances for their everyday retail needs.

Dave Wendland

Since convenience is at a premium and travel time is one of those factors, I like the premise of this study. I do wish it was a broader sample and more segmented, as suggested by several other posts, but it definitely puts a spotlight on another key factor of retail.

The old adage, “Time is money,” could not be more true. I believe that some stores are overreaching to attract patrons that may otherwise never become loyal … which should be the goal in building a customer base. A recent study by our team revealed that fifteen minutes is the magic number at an independent pharmacy (allowing patrons time to pick up a prescription and comfortably shop for other necessities). Combining this with the findings in this study, one could conclude that 32 minutes is the magic number for independent pharmacy for both travel and in-store experience. The trick is making those 15, 17 or total 32 minutes memorable and valuable to the shopper.

Phil Rubin
3 years 5 months ago

In these days of Amazon dominance, local is their mailbox, doorstep or office. Without an incrementally better experience, and even assuming price parity, the key takeaway here is that (customers’) time is increasingly valuable. Brands and merchants need to make the most of it.


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