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The work from home trend shifted consumer sentiment locally—here's how to take advantage

Published March 31, 2021

We hear a lot about how the work-from-home trend is helping e-commerce grow, but there’s another side to the story, where, perhaps counterintuitively, local brick-and-mortar businesses are receiving greater support.

Lockdowns led to increased demand for common household items sold in online marketplaces. These are the same items—toilet paper, bottled water, etc.—that people would typically head down to their local grocery or market to buy. Convenience soon gave way to restlessness, and after months sitting idly by, consumers have found themselves longing for the traditional retail experience offered only through local establishments.

And working from home has given consumers a deeper appreciation of the struggles faced by local businesses. Small businesses can use the work-from-home trend to connect more closely with consumers in their communities and grow their businesses long term.

Working from home makes consumers commit to local businesses

As more and more people embrace the work-from-home lifestyle, they’re paying more attention to the plight of local businesses struggling to stay afloat. Fifty-three percent of locked-down consumers say they’re now more likely to buy from local businesses rather than large enterprises—and it’s a trend that’s impossible to ignore. 

It’s a good thing, too, because small local businesses haven’t had it easy during the pandemic. According to a 2020 global survey from tech media publication, “80% of small business owners say COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their businesses.” Reduced foot traffic, heightened safety regulations and supply chain disruptions have put local businesses in “survival mode.” And while many businesses struggle to hang on—others haven’t been so lucky. A Yelp analysis last year stated that nearly 100,000 U.S. small businesses had permanently closed seven months into COVID-19 restrictions.

“The average American intends to spend at least $100 per week at local businesses post-pandemic.”

Fortunately, there’s hope for local businesses: The factors that affect consumer spending habits are changing. McKinsey cites “purpose”—including the desire to support local businesses—as one of the most influential factors affecting how they adopt new brands.  This adoption signals a willingness for shoppers to move away from large national retailers in favor of local providers.

Additionally, a survey from Business Wire found that “on average, people lasted 12 days on lockdown before attempting to perform services that they would typically have done at small businesses in their neighborhood including haircuts, manicures and pedicures.” This indicates that consumers will be running out the door once local businesses are up and running again.

Finally, sympathies for local businesses aren’t unique to specific regions. For example, almost 60 percent of British consumers have intentionally increased purchases from local shops to show their support, while the average American intends to spend at least $100 per week at local businesses post-pandemic—a double-digit increase from before “the new normal.”

Local businesses can use the work-from-home trend to their advantage

Attention and sympathy from consumers aren’t enough to recover lost revenues. Completely winning those restless shoppers back will take some ingenuity and understanding of changes in consumer behavior. Small local businesses need to try out different strategies to capitalize on the work-from-home trend.

Build loyalty by connecting with consumers digitally

Lockdowns and the resulting work-from-home trend mean people are spending a lot more time online. It’s ironic that local brick-and-mortar businesses would want to elevate their online channels given the close proximity to their target customers, but it’s a great opportunity for them to upskill their digital prowess and more effectively target marketing efforts by location.

Focus on these two key areas to better connect with digital consumers: 

  • Be more active on social media. This is your best bet for building a loyal following, and there are plenty of options available. Start by focusing on the major platforms like Facebook and Instagram—which both saw 40 percent increases in usage during COVID—then work your way down, depending on your region and demographic. Advertising promotions, running contests or giveaways and making social posts shoppable are great ways to engage with consumers that spend most of their time online.
  • Increase e-commerce efforts. Delivering a great online shopping experience was well on its way to becoming a necessity before the pandemic hit, and many local brick-and-mortar businesses have already achieved success by pivoting to e-commerce. E-commerce might not have been considered a backbone in how local retailers do business prior to COVID-19, whether that’s due to a lack of understanding or experience, but COVID-19 presents an opportunity for small businesses to achieve more balanced sustainable sales.

Related: TikTok for business: Success stories of brands using short videos to reach new audiences

Embrace niche products and changing consumer preferences

Quarantines have seen an uptick in new hobbies as people are secluded in their homes, and they’ve been on the hunt for different products as a result. This presents an interesting opportunity for local brands to start carrying more niche products or rebranding to suit more health-conscious consumers.

Offering uncommon products that suit changes in consumer lifestyle is a solid approach to renewing interest from local consumers. Specialty food products are big, for example, as more free time causes loads of people to take up cooking both as a pastime and a path to a sustainable healthy diet. 

Niche hobbies are on the rise, and the products they require all depend on what those activities involve. As neighborhood advocacy brand Nextdoor writes, “[P]roducts as diverse as electronics, recreation boats, and even flour (think of all that sourdough bread you made), have seen booms as people look to entertain themselves at home or in socially isolated situations.”

Snacking is bigger than ever, too—especially with the work-from-home crowd. But these consumers want to have snacks on hand without compromising their health or worrying about shelf life. The fact that the “demand for jerky and dried meats has increased by 187%” gives a good indication of the type of products local businesses can carry to get telecommuters back in the door.

Add additional services that highlight convenience and safety

Adding delivery, takeaway, or curbside pickup allows local businesses to keep moving products even if foot traffic is at a standstill. The work-from-home trend has consumers valuing the convenience and safety-consciousness of brands that offer these services.

These services don’t need to come with daunting up-front or ongoing costs, either. It’s easy for small businesses to get set up and manage deliveries with platforms like “TheLocal.Delivery,” which, instead of taking a percentage of every order, ask for only a one-time fee to minimize costs to local businesses.

Safety is top of mind with consumers nowadays, so taking the necessary measures to make your customers feel protected goes a long way. Even with vaccines being distributed, most American consumers still want to see health and safety as a priority going forward. Local businesses can make the right statement by providing sanitation stations, encouraging social distancing and being more flexible with self-service and payment options.

Lockdowns give local businesses a chance at stronger relationships with their communities

McKinsey found that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies that lead with empathy and genuinely address customer needs can strengthen relationships.” 

Savvy local businesses should use this time to make sure they stay connected with consumers who are now spending most of their time at home. Local businesses need to stay current on digital channels, offer delivery and follow safety protocols to continue fostering loyalty with their neighborhood consumers.

It’s reassuring to see communities rallying together to show greater support for struggling small retailers, and the right strategies and mindset will help any local business endure the new challenges the future will bring. Stay tuned! 

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