We all know ‘buying local’ is a great idea. More money stays in the community. We have access to goods and services we wouldn’t have otherwise. We have vibrant downtown centers. New people relocate because they have options to make money. It is a win-win.
But most of us need a little push to do this, and it often boils down to a matter of modern day convenience. It wouldn’t surprise you to learn that organizations with online donations get more donations or volunteer participation increases with the ability for volunteers to sign up online… so how can we make ‘buying local’ something more people can do online?
Option 1: Build every local business an online shopping cart. Not only is this overkill/expensive but some businesses don’t want to maintain an online cart, which involves shipping orders, making sure the stock is up-to-date, etc. Also this option doesn’t consider service businesses like restaurants or cleaning services.
Option 2: Have a database of information of where you can purchase different kinds of goods/services in a community. I don’t mind paying an extra $20 for a raincoat at a local shop. I do mind spending an hour long lunch break shopping for one only to spend half my time going to stores that don’t carry rain coats. This ‘here’s what you got locally’ information would either be a ridiculous-to-program website or involve some very knowledgeable people being available at regular intervals to take phone calls. In other words, not ideal.
Option 3: Sell local gift certificates/gift cards online for businesses.
It seemed obvious to me that selling local gift certificates seemed not only the best place to start but also an area where most businesses are missing out on potential revenue. Gift certificates are oftentimes never redeemed or, when they are, the customer spends more than the certificate amount. (Think about it, you get a $50 restaurant gift certificate and you are totally going to order the $8 cake versus leaving $3 unredeemed on the certificate, am I right?) In my own experience, I have given away 5 Anchorspace scholarships as silent auction items in the past two years and ZERO people have come in to redeem them.
We know that:
- Gift certificates are the most requested item on holiday wish lists, so we know people like to get them.
- Gift certificates create additional revenue for a business, and since they are never claimed or people purchase above and beyond a majority of the time, they are worth more than face value.
- Gift certificates are easy to send, meaning shipping costs are non-existent.
- Paper goods besides gift certificates also work with this model.
So all we had to do was build a super fast, mobile friendly, easy to use website where people could buy local gift certificates online.
Enter Gift MDI, a website I have been building (with a lot of help from my colleague Dr. Eric York) over the past six months. Eric was the design brain (though I had lots of opinions) and I was the sales/marketing person talking to business owners about this very new idea.
We launched with 14 businesses last Saturday night, and we had our first sale Sunday! If you are a business on MDI and want to be on the site, just contact us.
Our model is simple:
- Businesses make more money without more hassle selling gift certificates. If businesses didn’t have gift certificates made, we made them. If people didn’t have an idea of what they could do, we helped them figure it out.
- Customers can personalize their experience by sending gift certificates to different people from the same cart and by adding personal messages and greeting cards.
- Affiliates can earn money generating sales, decreasing our overall marketing budget and increasing buy in, online and off.
- We make our money by taking a percentage of sales, so as not to penalize businesses doing lots of small transactions with a per certificate charge and so as not to penalize businesses with no sales with a monthly charge. You only pay for this marketing when it works.
- Once we have our business model down, we take this concept to other communities. This site would be super expensive to replicate, but what is really needed is local community connection and knowledge.
Our goal, besides Gift MDI being our working prototype, is to put $100,000 into the local economy by May 28, 2018 with this website.
I know it’s ambitious but I think we can do it as a community. Sure, it’s a great mix of my customer service, web development, sales, and community development skills but I think it’s something communities need just about everywhere.
If you see this concept as interesting and live locally, please let me know if you’d like to be involved. We’re very open to feedback and participation as this is brand new. I want people to see how vibrant and diverse our local economy is!
If you see this concept as interesting and don’t live locally, please get in touch and we can help get it to yours.
Thanks to everyone who has supported the effort so far. It is an ambitious project and we are just beginning! Visit GiftMDI.com to buy local and online (yes, you can do both now).