Picture this: a customer walks into a specialty retail shop, spends an hour chatting with a sales associate to find just the right pair of shoes—then heads out empty-handed to go buy that exact pair online.
This frustrating situation has played out in countless retail shops across the country. However, when Locally launched in 2014, the intention was to flip the script—harnessing this new consumer behavior to create an online-to-offline scenario that lets shoppers search for gear online while connecting them with local shops that carry the brands and items they want.
Now, Locally is hoping to take this concept a few steps further, partnering with ecommerce purveyor Plum River to enhance the experience for brands, retailers, and perhaps most of all, customers.
“Shoppers have kind of pivoted; their behavior often starts on a mobile device or a digital device,” says Locally Founder Mike Massey. “The closer we can get to a 360 Amazon experience, the better local retail is going to be.”
The first phase of the partnership, which launched this week during the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance and Outdoor Retailer trade shows, uses the power of Plum River’s ecommerce tools to maximize the potential of inventory-related data. Retailers who utilize Locally will now have the option to share real-time stock data with brands to create what Massey calls a “perpetual inventory model” that helps them proactively avoid gaps in stock. In the future, Plum River will also be able to use data to help stores understand exactly what consumers are searching for in their local area, so that they can better anticipate need.
The second phase of Locally’s partnership with Plum River, which will create an “endless aisle” capability for participating retailers, will likely launch during the first quarter of next year. This will allow retailers to use their online channels to market items they don’t stock in-store. In this scenario, customers will be able to purchase items and have them shipped to the store, where they can still access the specialty retail experience.
“Rather than having competing B2C networks, we keep talking about there being one B2B2C network, where the retailer and the brand work together to give the shopper a seamless experience,” says Massey.
While Locally only just announced the new partnership, retailers are already beginning to consider the way the enhanced services might benefit their stores. Eric Stern, a store manager at Casual Adventure in Arlington, Virginia, has already seen benefits from Locally’s existing platform, and he thinks the increased data-sharing can fill some crucial gaps. “I think that’ll help the manufacturer get a better gauge on what inventory we’re stocking and what inventory we’re selling,” he says, “Versus just waiting until reporting time, meetings with reps, or trade shows, where we go over things on a more macro scale. This gives us much more of a micro level [interaction.]”
Chuck Millsaps, the Minister of Culture (and president) of Great Outdoor Provision Co., also sees potential. He’s already considering ways to integrate the eventual endless aisle capabilities into his company’s platform, Paddle Pro, which allows customers to begin the boat shopping experience online, asking them a series of questions that help steer them toward the right craft, which they can then discuss with an expert in-store. “We know there’s very few ecommerce platforms within the outdoor industry that are really doing well, and we also know the perils of Amazon. So what is the third way?” he says. “Let’s figure out what that compromise is—and Plum River might have it
Massey is excited to see just what possibilities lay ahead. “Plum River’s a very important partner to us and we’re super excited,” he says. “We know that we’re just at the very beginning. We know that we’re only kicking over, like, 3 percent of what this is going to be.”