For most businesses, eCommerce provides the opportunity for local merchants to reach customers outside of their trading area, across the globe. However, in some cases the services offered require a local presence to fulfill, for example a hair salon, day spa, landscaper, or garden center. As one of those merchants you realistically can’t deliver on the transaction. In this article we will be looking at those situations and ways local merchants can get income from customers outside of their trading area.
If you are a business that provides a service that is local and requires your physical presence, to complete the sale, eCommerce is something of a double edged sword. It can expose you to a wider audience, however it’s an audience you can’t convert into a customers due to the difference in location. However there are ways you can extract income from these sources.
Sometimes family or friends will want to buy gift for others who they no longer live near, and giving them the ability to purchase gift certificates online is an excellent opportunity to generate additional income. Children who have grown into adults, but no longer live in the same area as their parents still need to buy gifts, and those buying a gift certificate to a hair salon or day spa for Mother’s Day are a perfect example of a customer who is outside of your trading area. Setting up and maintaining a gift certificate program will create some additional work if you don’t have one in place. However since it can be used by locals too, it almost certainly is worth doing. Some jurisdictions do have regulations about gift certificates that are “inactive” for over a year, so be sure to investigate if this applies to you.
IP delivery is a fancy technical term, that basically means serving different content to an end user based on the physical location of that user. These programs are used very successfully by online dating services and chances are you’ve seen ads that say “Meet Local Singles in <Your Town Name> “. What they are doing is looking at the information the end user sends when they visit the page, and then changing the content based on this information.
As a local merchant, what you can do is: when a user who is outside of your trading area visits your website, instead of off showing them a lead generation form or email/phone contact information, you could show them gift certificate information that is tailored to to sell them gift certificates.
Another option is instead of using gift certificates you could display affiliate advertising or Google Adsense. For example a day spa that only has locations in New York, could display ads for the Spa Finder Affiliate program. I would never suggest completely removing the ability to purchase your gift certificates, but don’t emphasize them to visitors outside of your trading area.
Programming and Technical Concerns
While there are some “off the shelf” packages that provide this functionality, more than likely they are going to need some customization to be integrated into your existing website. So be sure to choose a programmer or website service provider who has done this before, or is qualified to perform the task. Additionally be aware that zip codes and locations do change from year to year, so be prepared to pay for quarterly or yearly updates to the data you using to “figure out” the locations. Thankfully, these costs are fairly minimal.
Lastly, you need to be concerned with the content you are serving the search engines who crawl your website. Do not serve different content just to the search engines, this is bad, known as cloaking and considered a violation of their terms of service. If a search engine from California visits serve it the identical content you would serve a person from California.
Take aways from this article:
- If you don’t already have one, look into setting up a gift certificate program
- Look for ways to create programming to isolate customers who are in your trading area from those who are not
- Decide what is the most appropriate content to serve: lead generation, local contact, gift certificates, affiliate advertising, or generic advertising
- Understand this makes your website more complicated and sophisticated, and will require yearly maintenance and require increase operating costs