Why the hyperlocal industry must evolve beyond technology

Instead of eagerly tracking the latest developments in the field of digital technology, consumers are today mostly trying to come to terms with the momentous changes that have brought massive disruption into their lives.

By Neeraj Jain

When it comes to the rapid evolution that technology has been demonstrating, the mood among businesses, technology enablers and industry experts is bullish; the internet today is inundated with statistics that reveal how digital technologies are constantly changing the way people interact, make decisions and do things on a daily basis. This has, in turn, nurtured an underlying belief that consumers are just waiting to get their hands on the latest innovation fresh off the tech oven. This assumption, however, is flawed. Instead of eagerly tracking the latest developments in the field of digital technology, consumers are today mostly trying to come to terms with the momentous changes that have brought massive disruption into their lives.

Consider the numbers and statistics for a clearer understanding of the statement. The world population stands at just over 7.4 billion at present; in comparison, the global smartphone ownership is barely around 2 billion users. With nearly 3/4th of the world population either not having access to a smart device or choosing not to use it, this refutes the claim that digital technology today is ubiquitous and ever-present. Even highly developed countries, such as the United States and Germany, have only 60-70 percent of their populations currently owning a smartphone, meaning that a sizeable chunk does not have access to smart devices. This situation is not expected to change much in the near future. While smartphone ownership today stands at around 27 percent globally, it is only expected to reach to around 36 percent by 2018. Moreover, a good portion of this user base is not very tech-oriented; these entry-level users are content to have simply mastered the art of using a smartphone without help.

The implications of these numbers are clear – technology alone cannot be depended upon to attract consumers to one’s products and services. This news might worry hyperlocal businesses which were banking on the rise of the smart medium to create market disruption and establish their differentiated business model. A question has therefore been raised, resulting in an in-depth analysis of the way they approach their business – if not technology, then what?

For hyperlocal businesses, the answers are not that complicated. Given how the hyperlocal business model was incepted as a facilitator that connects consumers with their neighbourhood brick-and-mortar vendors to fulfil their shopping requirements, networking has to be a major priority for players operating in the space. No matter how good a product is, it will simply not click with the consumer if it does not have a robust local network in place to support its operations. As such, there needs to be a more dedicated focus on building deep, lasting relationships with local vendors and developing a reliable, efficient network of local partners.

Ensuring quality of service and enhancing the user experience is another area that hyperlocal businesses need to focus on for continued success and growth. This can be achieved through a better service delivery infrastructure. Training workshops for the delivery guys, who are the consumer-facing end of a hyperlocal business, therefore become a must; this helps them in honing their communication skills and learning how to effectively tackle consumer grievances on the spot. The consumers are also more likely to appreciate interactions with better spoken, more polite delivery personnel.

The consumer experience, however, is not restricted to just the end-user order fulfilment. Rather, it encompasses the entire ordering process, beginning with the consumer’s initial product/service search through a hyperlocal platform and ending with post-sale follow-up queries if there are any. Businesses, therefore, must ensure that they provide a seamless integration between the online and the offline channels by enabling consumers to place an order either on a desktop/mobile website, an app or through the local retailer. Moreover, a keen eye must be kept on any consumer concerns both before and after the product fulfilment to keep the level of user satisfaction high, and efforts must to be made to resolve any grievance as soon as possible. This helps in establishing the brand proposition of a hyperlocal player as a consumer-centric business that puts consumers at the centre of their solutions.

All said and done, technology is and remains an integral part of the hyperlocal industry, but it is more or less an enabler than it is the end-goal. Effort must be taken to develop a comprehensive, well-rounded approach that synergistically integrates all aspects of the business. If hyperlocal ventures master how to optimally leverage technology in confluence with the aforementioned to enhance service delivery, there will be no stopping their growth and scale.

The author is CEO and co-founder, Zopper.

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