New online platform 'Nearby' wants to help small businesses compete with Amazon

  

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Via:  perrie-halpern  •  one month ago  •  5 comments

By:   Chiara Sottile and Jacob Ward

New online platform 'Nearby' wants to help small businesses compete with Amazon
With Main Street falling far behind the e-commerce giants, one company has come up with a solution to help local stores compete.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



As the pandemic drags on, retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target are raking in digital sales, while thousands of small businesses struggle to keep the lights on. With Main Street falling far behind, one company has come up with a solution to help local stores compete with the online giants.

"Nearby" is an online storefront that handles marketing, orders, fulfillment, and shipping for local businesses. The company's founder, April Underwood, used her experience leading product design at tech giants like Slack and Twitter — and hopes Nearby will help beloved neighborhood businesses keep up.

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Ex-Slack executive launches online marketplace to help small businesses


More than 160,000 businesses have closed since the pandemic began, according to the latest available data from online review site Yelp.

"There is no website or app you can go to and buy things from the shops in your own local hometown, and get them delivered to your doorstep just like you might from Amazon, or some big e-commerce player. And that's what we're building," Underwood told NBC News.

She piloted the program with a website called "Keep Oakland Alive," which features 40 small businesses. Now, she is expanding nationally — the cities of Austin and Charleston are next.

The company retains a 5 percent fee in Oakland to cover credit card fees, sales tax, and delivery costs.

April Underwood, CEO and founder of the "Nearby" platform, launched her pilot platform in Oakland, Calif., to support small businesses that have been so hard hit by the pandemic.Jacob Ward / NBC News

Underwood said that Nearby offers what a small business otherwise couldn't afford: people to make the deliveries, content writers to craft an online presence, and digital marketers who can find paying customers online. And because the pandemic has forced so many small businesses to rapidly move to e-commerce, those businesses suddenly have the digitized inventory systems in place that make it possible to pull stores together into an online marketplace, something that was missing in online "buy local" efforts of the past.

"Those big e-commerce players — Amazon, Target, Walmart — they have created expectations where people believe that they should have access to unlimited selection at the lowest prices, and it should all arrive within a very limited amount of time," Underwood said. "We've been led to believe that that is what we should expect, and that that's actually sustainable, and that every other retailer, small or large, should rise to that level," she said.

Erica Perez, co-owner of Oaktown Spice Shop, said she feared her store would have to completely shut down at the start of the pandemic. However, a collaboration with Nearby, and a fee of just 5 percent — which is only collected when the retailer makes a sale — made it possible for them to grow their e-commerce business.

There has been a resurgence in consumers wanting to shop local — which suggests that smaller stores could do better once the virus is under control and things start to normalize.

"When we started the shop, we set our prices thinking we were going to be selling things: people coming in the door," recalled Perez. "I think that the world has changed forever, and we are going to be selling things online at a greater degree than we ever have before. And we're learning how to do that. We certainly aren't set up here to be a fulfillment center out of a retail shop."

Erica Perez is the co-owner of Oaktown Spice Shop, in Oakland, Calif. which she opened with her husband as "a place where people could come and smell things and taste things." They've had to pivot to mostly e-commerce sales because of the pandemic, something made possible by the Nearby platform.Jacob Ward / NBC News

Iguehi James, CEO and designer of Oakland-based clothing brand Love Iguehi, says the new platform has enabled small-business owners to show what sets them apart from a big box store.

"I'm hand-making everything here or getting [apparel] produced here in Oakland. And so it's slower fashion. But what I like to say is that a lot of quality, a lot of care is put into every piece that we make," James said.

While she misses meeting and styling her customers in person, James said "Keep Oakland Alive" has made it possible to fill customer orders relatively quickly. "If someone wants a mask and they want it tomorrow, that service is there so that they can still get the quality goods, they can still support small businesses, but they can also get it pretty quickly," she said.

Nationwide, many consumers are still visiting just one or two stores and doing most of their shopping there to reduce potential exposure to the coronavirus, Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData's retail division, told NBC News in an email. "However, it is not all bad news, as there has been a resurgence in consumers wanting to shop local — which suggests that smaller stores could do better once the virus is under control and things start to normalize," Saunders said.

Underwood is betting on that "shop local" trend.

"I think of local shopping as, frankly, the smallest but most pragmatic way that you can be an active participant in your community," she said.

"But, that fuel is going to run out if it's not easier for consumers to do, which is where Nearby is taking up the mantle to actually address that."


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Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1  Buzz of the Orient    one month ago

Some of us remember and shopped at the local mom and pop stores before there was a Walmart or a Costco or other big box stores, places where you could tell the second or third generation hardware store owner what you wanted to do or needed to fix and he would find the perfect tool for you to do it.  The biggest grocery store was an A&P that was about 50' X 100'.and the drug store had a soda bar with stools. My parents shopped for fresh veggies and fruit at the city's central farmers' market where the farmers brought in the produce in their trucks early in the morning and laid it out on tables.  This is an actual photo of the farmer's market in my home town where I was born and grew up, before I eventually moved to Toronto that was "the big city" about 40 miles away.  

800

My father used to tell this story, swore that it was true.  He was buying veggies at the farmer's market and overheard a conversation between a woman shopper and a farmer that went something like this.  Remember that this was about 80 years ago.

"How much are your cucumbers?"

"10 cents each"

"10 cents each?  That's too much."

"That's the price, lady."

"I can buy cucumbers two for a quarter at the A&P across the road."

"Well, okay lady, if A&P can afford to lose money, so can I.  You can have two for a quarter."

 
 
 
SteevieGee
Junior Silent
2  SteevieGee    4 weeks ago

A link in the article would have been nice.  Googled "nearby" and  "nearby.com" and couldn't find it.  I did find Amazon and Target though.  I found "keep oakland alive" and then a tab called "news" to finally find "nearbyhq.com".  There's not much there right now but you can nominate your city for an expansion.  I wish them well but, if you can't find them, it's not going to work.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Junior Principal
3  Nerm_L    4 weeks ago

Sounds like a good idea.  And it will probably work until Amazon, Walmart, Google, Microsoft, or Facebook buys the company setting this up.

We're too far gone to hope that startup technological solutions can compete with the few owners of technology.  What will be necessary are systemic reforms.

 
 
 
Split Personality
PhD Principal
3.1  Split Personality  replied to  Nerm_L @3    4 weeks ago

Just as Jet.com(?) was bought up by WalMart recently for an online delivery infrastructure.

For a while they continued as Jet, then the link changed to WalMart.  The free shipping disappeared.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
3.2  TᵢG  replied to  Nerm_L @3    4 weeks ago
Sounds like a good idea.  And it will probably work until Amazon, Walmart, Google, Microsoft, or Facebook buys the company setting this up.

We agree on this.

 
 
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