How Mobile Apps Keep Shoppers’ Footprint Local

September 23, 2012

Today, many are touting the benefits of buying locally produced products because — all else being equal — these products have less of an environmental footprint because they travel shorter distances to market. Yet, there has been less attention paid to how far shoppers travel to make their purchases — and the opportunity to reduce their environmental impact when doing so.

Interestingly, many consumers view eCommerce as more eco-friendly than shopping on Main Street because they don’t have to travel from their homes to do so. But, environmental impact studies on the topic are mixed, and the actual answer depends on a lot of factors, including the number of products purchased at a time, the density of the surrounding area and the distance traveled to a store.

Moreover, online is estimated to represent only 7 percent of retail sales in the United States, with the vast majority of goods and services still being sold through traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.

Given that the overwhelming majority of sales are made offline, the Internet — and increasingly Internet-enabled mobile devices — arguably can have a significant impact how people shop when used to facilitate offline transactions closer to home. To that end, new mobile players with location-based services are emerging that aim to drive hyperlocal shopping.

For local businesses, such apps provide new ways to reach local audiences and drive foot traffic. Consumers benefit from the added convenience of finding what they need nearby. The environment also wins as consumers travel fewer miles to shop. Here are a few examples of mobile offerings that hold the potential to reduce the environmental impact of shopping:

Business locators. AroundMe is a popular app that takes advantage of geolocation capabilities to enable consumers to find businesses nearby. This app allows consumers to search merchant categories such as restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores, and displays results based on proximity or price (gas stations) or even availability (hotels). Such an app drives foot traffic to local establishments based on search results, as well as geo-targeted ads, while reducing the environmental impact of consumers traveling father distances to shop.

Product locators. JiWire recently launched Compass, a mobile advertising platform that enables retailers to target mobile users with relevant ads based on the location. What is interesting is that Compass can geolocate products from more than 200,000 retailers, allowing customers to then text or call retailers to put an item on hold for purchase. Not only does this create a superior consumer experience, but it enables consumers to avoid extra trips to make a purchase.

Location-based marketplaces. Grabio is a local marketplace that allows individuals and businesses to buy and sell goods through mobile devices. For local businesses, Grabio provides a new channel to reach consumers nearby. Local businesses can create mobile storefronts to list inventory, and conduct transactions using Grabio’s built-in mobile payment system. Because it is location-based, users know the exact location of the posting, providing added convenience — as well as reduced eco impact — when consumers make purchases closer to home.

Goshi, another emerging mobile marketplace puts a unique twist on this model by providing local “hubs” — a coffeehouse or other public meeting space — to exchange goods. The site allows local artisans and other businesses without storefronts to conduct transactions locally.

In-store rewards. Shopkick is a popular mobile application that provides consumers with rewards for shopping at — indeed, just walking into — a store. For retailers, the app generates much-coveted foot traffic – conversion rates are high once consumers walk in the door. While, today, most of Shopkick’s customers are national retail brands, the app holds significant potential for local retailers, by serving as a local loyalty program and keeping customers shopping closer to home.

Emerging mobile apps are motivating more consumers to shop locally. eCommerce was once hailed as a more eco-friendly way to shop because it eliminated the need to drive to a store. Now it should be mobile’s turn to help reduce the distance consumers have to travel to shop.


Shopping for Green Online

March 4, 2008

An Interview with thepurplebook Founder Hillary Mendelsohn

With the exception of a few select product categories, growing consumer interest in green has not yet translated into substantive changes in purchase behavior by mainstream consumers.  Like many nascent categories, green faces many barriers to widespread adoption. 

In many ways, product adoption in the green space is a classic chicken and an egg problem: uncertain demand leads manufactures to limit the number of products they launch.  Limited products and product choice, in turn, curtails demand.  However, this only tells half the story as there are many reasons why demand is limited. 

Even with those receptive to a green message, marketers are challenged by low familiarity with green products.  This, in turn, hampers consumers from effectively navigating the category as well as making informed purchase decisions.   

Where do consumers turn for credible information today?  Product companies?  Not necessarily, as consumers are increasingly skeptical about green marketing claims.  Fellow consumers?  Uncertain, as their peers are likely to have equally limited experience with green products.  

Can consumers rely on standards?   Perhaps.  Standards have been adopted in certain categories and many more are on the way.  Yet, rollout of new standards takes time; familiarity with what existing ones mean (i.e., how green is green?) is still limited.    

Instead, consumers today may turn to credible third party sources for guidance.  One such source is the recently launched thepurplebook green, a complete guide to green shopping online.  With an extended following already, thepurplebook series enters the green market with significant brand awareness…and credibility as a reliable source for online shopping information.  Indeed, just weeks after launch, thepurplebook green is planning a second printing.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with thepurplebook Founder Hillary Mendelsohn.  We discussed growing consumer interest in the environment, the role that purchases play for consumers to express their convictions on green and the role that thepurplebook green plays in facilitating green purchases.  Here is what she had to say: 

MG: Does consumer concern for the environment translate into increased purchase of green products? 

HM: Purchasing power holds two powerful acts for the consumer.  First, purchasing green allows the consumer to feel better about his/her choices and particularly for personal care products, food and household items there are positive health-oriented reasons  to make such purchases.   

Second, other than voting, this is the consumer’s strongest voice to the corporations at large.  Purchasing green holds corporate America more accountable for creating green options, and ultimately having greener practices internally. 

For both of these reasons, the ‘voice’ that purchasing green gives the consumer has and will continue to increase the sales volume of green products. 

MG: What types of green products do consumers purchase?   

HM: Consumers are purchasing based on their lifestyles.  Young families are focused on greener/healthier cleaning, food and personal care items.  Older consumers are building or remodeling green.  The overall theme is that people are beginning to care about shopping more responsibly and are looking for ways to make better choices.   

It is the job of thepurplebook green and those of us that care about this concern to point them in the right direction. 

MG: Are consumers purchasing green products or brown products that are now greener? 

HM: The answer is both.  But the victory lies in the fact that they are making the effort to make better choices.  We must educate, create standards and make sure products do not lack in quality, style or cost too much.  If we can show consumers that they do not have to compromise on quality, taste or price, we can have everyone purchasing green. 

MG: What was the origin of the book?  Did it evolve out of a passion for green or a business opportunity similar to your other books or a little of both? 

HM: I knew very little about being green prior to starting this book.  I was happily writing online shopping guides when one evening, a friend invited me to see a screening of An Inconvenient Truth.  I sat in the darkened theater thinking about how I had contributed to this huge problem, and the legacy my children will inherit.   

Then I thought, if I were to become part of the solution instead, what would that look like?  Being an online shopping expert, I went to the web to see what I could find as far as earth-friendly fare was concerned.  It was slim pickings and hard to find anything at all. 

I thought, if I apply my skill set and focus exclusively on green product, I will educate myself, and create a book that might help make being green easier for others.  That said, I am a business professional, and what I have discovered, is that green makes sense and makes money – they are not mutually exclusive.   

I do hope this book is wildly successful, as that will mean people are adopting change and I have done my part. 

MG: Who is your target audience?  What beliefs do they hold about the environment?  What are their demographics?  Are they consistent with their behavior? 

HM: The beauty of this book is that it is meant for the eco-neophyte as well as the eco-savvy.  There is education and information for those who want to learn more and great resources for those who already know why they are making  better choices but can’t find the product.  There isn’t a demographic, but rather those wanting a greener lifestyle.   

The idea isn’t to exclude anyone, but to include everyone open to making greener choices whether it is their first or someone who lives dedicated to the greenest lifestyle possible.  This is doable for everyone.  The more we encourage choice and change, the more people will adopt greener lifestyle habits. 

Consistency lies within the consumer having good experiences with green products.  Once they have found good products, they do stick with them. 

MG: How should merchants approach you for inclusion in the book?  What is the criteria for inclusion? 

HM: Any merchants who wish to be considered for inclusion in thepurplebook Green, can log on to www.thepurplebook.com and submit their site for inclusion.   

Our criteria includes the following:  You must be able to complete the transaction online using a secure server, the site must be reasonable to navigate, customer service policies must be clearly stated and fair and a phone number is required for all sites. 

MG: How do you determine how green a company is?  Do you use a ratings system?  

HM: We have familiarized ourselves with all of the certifications currently used and have tried to glean a working knowledge of what is and isn’t green.   If we have questions, we contact the site and we do our very best to deliver consistent, quality information to our consumers. 

If we question it, or a site is not completely green but has a substantial green offering, we let the consumer know that too.  We are all trying to just to do better than we were yesterday, and need to keep that in mind and not judge too harshly. 

This is a relatively new area and we all have much to learn.  No one knows it all – yet.  All of the sites listed in the book are exceptional or they would not be there; however, we do make a special acknowledgement for those sites that also package and ship green.


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