Guest Columnist

Shop Local boosts group ad benefits

December 24, 2012 

Galatea Boutique’s Cheryl Fraser, like many small-business owners, has little time, money or patience for online advertising.

She’s dabbled in the practice, building a website for the Seaboard Station shop and once trying out an online store. She’s considered daily deals through Groupon or LivingSocial but worried about the impact on her bottom line with a flood of customers using the deep discounts. Facebook lets her entice customers with photos of newly stocked women’s clothing and accessories.

But advertising that directly equals sales is hard to find.

That might change in 2013, with help from Shop Local Raleigh.

The membership group for independent Raleigh merchants, now 4 years old and with more than 300 members, is expanding its group advertising benefits (traditionally just print ads and email lists) by partnering with promising new online advertising platforms.

Fraser recently uploaded her first dozen products to LiPi (lipiapp.com), a website for small and local businesses to create online stores. She’s made one sale so far during the three-month free trial.

Raleigh-based LiPi has a mission to drive more traffic to brick-and-mortar locations, so items purchased online must be picked up in the store. It also encourages buyers to share their purchases through social media, generating more online buzz for the store.

Fraser also plans to try LocalSense (localsense.com), another young Raleigh company that lets local businesses create offers, attach them to a physical location and make them available through the LocalSense mobile app. Consumers use the app to search for and redeem deals in certain areas of town. The app uses location-based technology to identify the most relevant offers. It all happens in real time, letting business owners react quickly if they want to drive traffic to their restaurants or stores.

“Businesses like these promotion companies are actually thinking that maybe independent, local businesses are important, both to the uniqueness of the area and also monetarily,” Fraser said.

The key for any new platform will be analytics, said Jeff Tippett, vice president of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association and Shop Local Raleigh and director of Calvert Creative. Online platforms allow merchants to track the impact of marketing on a customer’s buying behavior.

“Across all digital marketing platforms, analytics will play an increasing role,” Tippett said. “Companies need to understand what is working, how to make it work better and also determine what’s not working.”

Shop Local Raleigh’s traditional benefits have already helped Galatea increase sales this holiday season, despite the uncertain economic environment. But digital is the untapped opportunity Fraser knows she must pursue.

“It’s so hard as a business owner to find new ways of advertising, marketing and making new contacts,” she said. “I feel like there’s a lot out there. But Shop Local is helping us cut to the chase and determine if it’s a good fit.”

Laura Baverman is a journalist who spent eight years covering business for Cincinnati newspapers before moving to Raleigh in October.

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