Retailers have a hard time surviving in these times. More and more brick-and-mortar stores are closing and shopping centers have high vacancy levels. According to PBL (planbureau voor de leefomgeving), shop vacancy levels in 2013 amounted to 7.8% of the total retail brick-and-mortar shops in the Netherlands (Buitelaar et al., 2013). One of the main drivers that is a huge threat for the brick-and-mortar shops is e-commerce. Online retailing, e-tailing, is growing very fast and more people are purchasing goods on the internet (molenaar, 2011).
The Dutch/English startup NearST, which was recently awarded (Feb 2016) in London as the most promising startup of Western Europe, will provide “offline” shops and (online) platform to be able to compete with e-tailers. The mission of the founders of NearST is attract more people back to the shopping centers by making the products of brick-and-mortar stores searchable for people in the neighbourhood. The startup has started to roll out their platform in London for bookstores as a test case. They service is soon to be deployed in more areas and categories.
So what does this app do? Well, we people are driven by speed and convenience. We don’t want to buy products online and have it delivered on the next day. No, we want it right now. This is were the mobile app NearST, which is an abbreviation of nearest, comes in. Through the app you can currently search a book (soon to be expanded to other product categories), and see which shop is close by and has it in stock. You can then select the quantity and when you want to pick up the book (right now, later today, or another time). After you have reserved the book, the shop will receive an e-mail or phone call about the reservation. When the shop confirms the reservation by their choice of medium (mobile app, email, phonecall or browser), the person will get a notification that the book is ready to be picked up. The person will then proceed to the shop, pay and collect the book locally.
NearST’s business model is to connect people willing to buy a product online and pick it up immediately after having reserved the product. When the user makes a reservation for a product using the app at an “offline” retailer, NearST will receive a small fee for attracting the customer to their store. NearST will get this small fee, as the app let’s the users reserve a product which creates trust that the product will be there when you pick it up.
But why is this such an interesting concept? The idea of the founders is that shopping through the app is more easy than buying online, and you can pick up your reservation almost immediately. Secondly, while we live in times where technology is playing a more important role then ever, not everyone is digitally capable. NearST provides a service that is easy to use and doesn’t require complex steps for an “offline” shop owner. NearST is designed to work with all kinds of inventory systems, even when they are very old, to make it as easy as possible for the shop owners. The shop owners can continue to manage the service from thereon using a smartphone app or through the NearST website.The service will make buying local faster and more convenient than online. This will provide “offline” shop owners a new way to compete with online.
Molenaar, C., 2011. Het einde van winkels? De strijd om de klant.
Buitelaar, E., van Dongen, F. & Breedijk, M., 2013. Meten is weten: Leegstand detailhandel herbezien. Real Estate Research Quaterly, pp.52–58.