In the past few years, we have witnessed what is possibly the most rapid adoption of technology by the masses. Mobile phone have become ubiquitous, internet speeds available now are 10x compared to what was available even 2-3 years ago, growth of smartphones across the world has never been higher, computation power and storage space that would fill up a box now sits comfortably in our hands. Each smartphone today comes pre-fitted with a wide variety of sensors which continuously keep users data from being consumed by millions of apps out there. All of this data gives us a lot of information about the users and helps apps understand context. And understanding context helps apps and websites provide users with information that they are looking for or, in the case of assistant apps like Google Now, might need. In today’s information and data driven world, you are the product and every company tries to push more information to you based on the data that they have on you.
The holy grail of information delivery is the ability to be able to push the right information to the right user at the right time and place from the right store. This essentially means that for such a system/solution to work:
- The system needs to have comprehensive and detailed information both about the user and the stores.
- The system needs to be able to process the information correctly to understand context so that the correct information can be given to the user.
True hyper-local mobile startups are essentially companies working on building such an information delivery system that is based on a user’s location, habits and other input parameters to and understand context and then provide users with the right information from offline stores be it offers, products, menu, etc. What is important to note is that such companies could not have existed 3-4 years back simply because technology wasn’t good enough. And just like the rise and growth of internet ushered online selling and P2P communication, the rise of smartphones will introduce us to a whole new era of ‘local’ commerce. We are already seeing that with taxi companies like Uber and local delivery companies Instacart etc and this is only going to grow.
Every successful business follows a pattern to the core. Build a product, distribute information about the existence of your product, get users to use your product, measure what works what doesn’t and repeat. So before we talk about what opportunities hyper-local mobile start-ups create for offline business, let’s take a step back to try and understand the problems that offline businesses face when they try and go through this pattern:
- Information distribution: Most offline businesses rely on traditional media to be promote themselves or yellow pages to be discovered. Newspaper ads are too expensive and have low RoI. Social media and online doesn’t work because most of these channels cannot do regional targeting. The ability to quickly scale and reach out and tell a potential user about the features that their product has literally does not exist.
- New user acquisition and user retention: For online businesses, new user acquisition is relatively easily as various ad networks help drive traffic to a website. Go and talk to a restaurant owner and you will realize how incredibly difficult it is for them to reach out to and be discovered by new users. Stores rely on either word of mouth or offers to drive in users.
To improve user retention several offline stores work on a loyalty points based model so that they can collect data about a user and then reach out to them.
- Analytics: Websites and apps constantly monitor metrics bounce rate, repeat visits, page views and they strive hard to improve them by looking at numbers, running experiments and figuring out what works. For an offline business, there is no analytics to tell them which users did what, there is no user based personalization, in the real world there are no cookies.
Without sources to distribute information, networks to acquire and retain users and tools to measure what works and what does not, offline business are truly handicapped and have to resort to means like pamphlet distribution, buying expensive hoardings or run half baked loyalty programs all of which are very inefficient but the best what the current system can provide. Running an offline business is tough, online store are eating up their margins, growth is slow and scale is difficult to achieve.
Now imagine if there was a system / product / app that could
- Understand what kind of users a business wants.
- Intelligently target those users by understanding context like location, time of day, preferences etc so that information given to a user is relevant and useful.
- Track and monitor what kind of users respond to which info.
- Give back information to stores on what works and what does not, then offline store could easily grow their user base, improve retention and reach out to a wider audience and hence solve one of the most crippling problems that companies like Google, Facebook et al have been trying to solve since a long time. And this is the exact opportunity hyper-local mobile start-ups are creating for offline business. They are providing them with a scalable, easy to use platform to reach out to the right user, at the right place and the right time. They are providing them with the holy grail of information delivery.
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