Locally.com lets consumers see inventory at nearby shops

By Tom Ryan, RetailWire

The following appears courtesy of RetailWire.com, an online discussion forum for the retail industry.

Frustrated by losing sales to the Amazons of the world, a handful of outdoor retailers in 2014 launched Locally.com to open up online inventory visibility for local retailers. A unique aspect is how it helps brands sell through local dealers.

Locally now works with approximately 550 specialty retailers and more than 180 brands in North America, covering over 320 cities.

Tapping local inventory feeds, consumers can see what inventory is available at nearby stores. Inventory feeds are updated at least once a day and, in some cases, in real-time.

Items can be reserved or bought online for pickup. Consumers may head to a nearby store to try on merchandise, get advice or take home the product immediately. In fall 2016, the service will add local home delivery using company vehicles, Uber/Postmates, bike couriers, etc.

Local retailers can make their in-stock inventory feed viewable on their website or Facebook page. The bigger opportunity appears to be how Locally.com enables wholesale brands to install "Locator" tools on their branded websites to enable consumers to see which of their items are available at local stores. Brooks, Simms Fishing, Mountain Hardwear, Thule and Wilson are among those that have done so.

Why would brands forego their own online sales? Locally promises to save a sale for shoppers who visit branded websites without making a purchase because they want to try the item, get advice or get it immediately.

But the bigger reason is to support independent shops. Brands need to be continually introduced and serviced by professionals largely available at specialty stores to buttress demand.

In a penned article on Mann Group's monthly newsletter, Mike Massey, Locally's president, asserted that if a brand isn't able to be supported through high-service specialty stores, "only the rarest brands will continue to see sales growth, online or off. And when a key channel is no longer competitive, or you hand the primary customer relationship over to a few large retailers, it won't take long before you are pinched."

Discussion Questions: How might services like Locally that provide inventory transparency at the local level aid smaller, specialty stores? What benefits do you see for brands? What do you think overall of the Locally business model?

Comments from the RetailWire BrainTrust:

It's a great idea but not a new one. Small merchants typically lack the tools to manage inventory and often rely on memory or a spreadsheet. That's the challenge. To have real benefits to small retailers, all of their inventory needs to be in the system and they have to commit to maintaining stock or the effort will be haphazard at best.
Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

If Locally can show real-time inventory, and if the product is in stock when the consumer arrives at the store at a reasonable price, this could be a winner. Many consumers begin product searches with Amazon, this will incentivize them to see if a local retailer has the product in stock. The downside is pricing competition from the large online retailers. Locally offers convenience, but it also encourages price comparisons.
Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Conceptually, Locally.com makes good sense. Practically, we are moving in a direction that dictates that the inventory information provided to the consumer be accurate. However, many "smaller" retailers may not be capable of providing even near-real-time inventory information. So we have to wait and see how this shakes out, but it will be necessary to continue to tweak and enhance the offering until the inventory information is accurate enough that the consumer is not disappointed.
Bob Amster, Principal, Retail Technology Group

According to its FAQs, Locally gets its store inventory information by asking participating retailers to transmit SKU# and Quantity data from their POS systems on a daily basis. It's a fairly simple process that can be automated. If the retailer's POS system has an accurate and current tally of stock on hand, this can probably work well.

I'm less clear on how well the effort will pay off for retailers, however, since, the model depends on shoppers who first identify desired items, then decide to seek them in nearby shops without concern about prices. Is this a common behavioral pattern? On the plus side, I'm impressed that Locally.com is designed to interface favorably with search engines. This may be the core advantage for independent retailers.
James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

Read the entire RetailWire discussion.