Forbes, March 12, 2013
Google Now may level the playing field for independent business. Walmart is often cited as the death of main street. The big box stores are to blame for all of our job woes and economic challenges. Independent retailers taking their last breaths thanks to Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, not to mention Amazon with its online dominance. But Google Now may turn the tide for some of these smaller, indie shops.
What Google Now Can Do
Google Now is available in Google’s mobile OS as a way to bring information to people’s attention even if they haven’t specifically set an alert, for example. Google Now can prompt Android users about nearby restaurants, local stores, or events. Google Now is coming to the Chrome OS and it appears it will work like the mobile operating system. It will most certainly be part of the “Project Glass” phenomenon since that technology is focused on what you see as you move about locally.
While I am uncertain it is completely true that big box stores destroy main street, it is what you read when a big box store announces it is coming to town. Your town. My town. I have been exploring and researching the positive impacts that a Walmart or Home Depot brings to a local community and it has been a tough slog, let me tell you. Can technology shift the tide to help them compete and get noticed? I believe the answer is yes. To be clear: it is far more complicated to explain how a main street deteriorates, many of which have been beleaguered since before Walmart’s existence.
Top 10 Reasons To Support Local Business
The Institute for Local Self Reliance offers a downloadable PDF with the top 10 reasons to support local businesses (link in resource section). Among them, five stood out as worth considering. The others, such as jobs and wages, while critically important, don’t stand out for me because I’m not sure it is true that a local retailer pays much more than a Walmart. According to the download, here are some of the reasons, numbered as in the report:
1. Local Character and Prosperity
“In an increasingly homogenized world, communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive character have an economic advantage.” Most of us want this to be true and for local small business to prosper.
4. Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy
“Compared to chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community.”
Entrepreneurship fuels America’s economic innovation and prosperity, and serves as a key means for families to move out of low-wage jobs and into the middle class. I agree wholeheartedly with this one — new and innovative companies drive a whole range of opportunity for small communities that support them.
“A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long-term.” I’m not sure this logic holds as these businesses are disconnected, which is how Walmart originally started to eat their lunch, so to speak, so unless they form cooperative efforts, I don’t believe more small businesses equals lower prices. It didn’t happen pre-Walmart.
10. Product Diversity
“A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based, not on a national sales plan, but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of product choices.” The ability to zero in on a local consumer’s tastes and interests will allow some impressive gains over big box offerings.
Overall, Google Now and other technology tools (including 3D printing which allows faster prototyping, new manufacturing systems such as ChocoStyle’s new molds) may level the playing field for independent business. The big box stores may present problems, but they won’t kill innovative and strong small companies.