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  • Matt Moloney

Is your community’s shop local program helping or hurting the consumer shopping experience?

Consumer shopping experience refers to the decision-making process individuals go through when purchasing goods or services. It encompasses various factors such as preferences, attitudes, motivations, and perceptions that influence where, when, and how consumers shop. Shop local programs aim to encourage consumers to prioritize purchasing from local businesses within their community rather than larger chain stores or online retailers. 

To effectively meet the needs of consumers, these programs must understand and address key aspects of the consumer shopping experience. This includes recognizing the significance of convenience and accessibility, along with not overcomplicating the process by which consumers purchase items. By aligning with consumer preferences and behaviors, shop local initiatives can create meaningful connections between businesses and consumers, fostering community support and economic growth.

A look at the most shop local programs and their impact on the consumer shopping experience

Shop local programs are not uncommon across cities, counties, chambers, BIDs, etc., and all often have the same goal—promote and support local businesses.

Two of the most popular options are:

Community-sponsored gift cards: A very common method, this allows consumers to purchase gift cards directly from the city or county, which can be redeemed at a variety of businesses across the community. 

Although widely-used, gift cards are not without their drawbacks. If the program is not well-promoted or lacks participation from businesses, it may fail to generate significant economic stimulus or consumer engagement. There's a risk of financial loss for the city if a large portion of the gift cards go unredeemed or if the program incurs higher administrative costs than anticipated.

Additionally, there are often transaction fees associated with gift cards for the consumer. This could be a flat fee or some percentage of the total value—which may deter consumers from purchasing high dollar-value gift cards. Oftentimes, these gift cards are purchased in bulk by companies and distributed to employees as incentives.

Rebate programs: In this model, shoppers receive discounts on their purchases at participating local businesses. The city or county then reimburses the businesses for the discounts provided to customers, typically based on proof of eligible transactions submitted by the businesses.

The drawback here for businesses is two-fold: discounted revenue upfront and varying wait times for their reimbursements. In some cases, businesses may receive reimbursements within a few weeks or a month after submitting proof of eligible transactions. However, oftentimes, the process may take longer, with reimbursements being disbursed on a quarterly or semi-annual basis.

If we take a look at how both of these impact the consumer shopping experience, only the rebate program mirrors how a customer would normally interact with a business. But, this model has high risk for business owners.

Less is more when it comes to the consumer shopping experience, with many people heading out with just their cell phone and a credit card. We’ve heard from countless communities about how gift cards are consistently forgotten—or get lost—and then the funds go unused. Meaning no impact to the consumer and no impact to the local businesses.

The solution: Meeting the needs of both the customer and the business owner

For a shop local program to gain the stickiness many communities are looking for, they need to map it directly to the consumer shopping experience.

Open Rewards—a shop local app powered by Bludot—was built specifically with this in mind.

The program is simple:

  • Users download the app

  • After signing up, users have the ability to link a credit card so that rewards earned are automatically credited to their account. This can step can be skipped and users can simply upload receipts

  • Users shop at businesses in the program like they normally would

  • Users earn rewards on their transactions (either automatically from linking a card or by uploading a receipt)

  • These rewards can be cashed out (via PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, etc.) after making a purchase at another business in the program

This approach is being used across several communities—including Las Vegas, Hermiston, OR Chamber of Commerce and Arlington County, VA.

We sat down with the Arlington County, VA team to talk about the huge impact the program is having both with their business community and residents in this video case study:

In addition to meeting your community where they are in terms of the consumer shopping experience, Open Rewards provides a low-lift platform with many customers seeing over 20X return on investment in local economic impact.

Open Rewards - Consumer Shopping Experience Blog

To see what Open Rewards could look like for your community, please schedule a demonstration here.


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