Holiday shoppers in New York City.

There is a famous political phrase, “All politics is local.”

There is another famous phrase: “All retailing is local.”

Retailers and brands are gathering huge amounts of data on individuals and using it effectively. This information can work if you can get these targets into your stores or on your web sites. We hear about community, community, community. That has become a generalization, but it has many characteristics. One thing is for sure, community awareness, relevance and personalization are back with a vengeance.

Among the various retail platforms that include digital direct, social media, bricks-and-mortar and even catalog sales, each has its own definition of local.

Local can be a geographic location or a community tied together by a cause or a very specific lifestyle. They all present a point of sale opportunity and that is where the all-important local aspect resides.

Bricks-and-mortar stores still account for some 90 percent of all retail sales. The digital world has not been able to match a customer’s ability to look, feel and try on merchandise. Almost as important is the ability to carry your purchase home with you the minute you buy it.

A key for the retailer is to motivate local shoppers to take the final step and come into the store and not just when there is big sale. More power must be given to regional managers to have a say in the local marketing process. Sales promotions must have a significant dose of community values and issues as part of their message. With all the noise being created by the technological revolution, brick and mortar stores may not be entirely distracted from the all-important local element. It’s one thing to understand the customer, but it’s as important to excite and give back to the local community. And this is where many of the department and big box stores drop the ball. The customer can react to different stimuli in different parts of the country even though they may in fact buy similar or the same merchandise.

Centralization is the necessary and dominant force, but regional customization can give relevance and personality to individual branches.

Some department stores, for example, will do a great job of developing locally themed promotions at their flagship stores, but do very little with branches all around the country. This is especially true in cookie-cutter malls.

Digital retailers should have a lot easier time attracting hungry buyers to their web sites. They have an amazing set of tools to use to excite consumers.  They must, however, also tailor promotions to a variety of communities with different cultural values. It might mean tweaking their core site to create a somewhat different personality to capture “local” shoppers. These small fixes would be aimed at various digital communities that may have different cultural values, but would all like the same merchandise. Methods used to get traffic to a site could be a lot different than what is used to promote the brand.

Using local store catalogues and brochures to excite local customers is an underused marketing strategy. The flexibility and quick time factor catalogues provide makes them in many ways a useful tool to draw in local shoppers. It not only tells consumers what’s available, but also opens up an opportunity to establish that all-important community relationship. Catalogues and brochures can be inexpensively inserted in hyper-local newspapers. This is a great way for chains to provide great local promotions for their chain locations.  They can add online catalogue insertions to local social media outlets, including local online magazines.

The diversity and complexities inherent in today’s direct and wholesale businesses have resulted too often in merchants overlooking the importance of the local focus. When you walk through a mall it’s a rarity to see a branch of a major national chain catch your eye, never mind excite you.

All retailing is local.  It sure doesn’t always look or feel that way.

Michael Coady is a media and marketing industry consultant, and the former ceo of Fairchild Publications. He can be reached at:

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