By Emily Williams
Smartphones and tablets keep the internet almost always within reach, making it easier than ever to shop.
But the shift toward e-commerce has drawn consumers away from local small businesses. When sales drop and local businesses close, it isn’t just the owner and employees who suffer; the city loses tax dollars the store would have generated.
Those tax dollars would help fund services for the entire community, including first responders, parks and recreation centers and schools.
To help local businesses adapt to the new shopping landscape and flourish, the city of Hoover is introducing the Live, Love, Shop Local initiative, which includes a partnership with the app Native Rewards.
Jordan and Ashley Doufexis, Joe Mayes and Ryan Tramel founded Native Rewards in Ft. Payne two years ago in an effort to supply local businesses with the tools to compete with giants such as Amazon.
Following the success of its beta app, the founders searched for other cities to team up with, and they were drawn to Hoover based on its high volume of retail sales and the city’s investments in the community and school system.
To work closely with the city during the planning and execution of the new initiative, Doufexis and his wife have put down roots in Hoover, for the time being.
“If we can’t arm local businesses with the tools and technology to match Amazon at a price they can afford, then they will eventually shut their doors,” Doufexis said. “No one in any market sector will be immune to Amazon before long.”
He noted that the company on Amazon Prime Day, July 10, made more than $1 billion in sales. On Cyber Monday, it beat out Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Macy’s and Apple in sales, he said.
Consumers ultimately choose to spend their money where they get the most value, but that value isn’t just about the money; it’s also about saving time.
“The most valuable commodity and the one thing that we can’t create more of is time,” he said. “That’s why Amazon Prime users grow by the thousands each week.”
Through Native Rewards, a local shopper can search for items in one place rather than running around town.
“This is simply phase one of our app,” Doufexis said. “We’re currently integrating point of sale, with same day home delivery for local retail as our next phase. You’ll be able to shop local anytime and from anywhere.”
Show Me the Money
While they work technologically on the next phase of their app, Doufexis and the Native Rewards team have coordinated a variety of features that give customers incentive to shop locally.
The app sorts businesses under four categories – Eat, Shop, Play and Live – giving not only retailers, but restaurants, health and fitness centers and professional services the opportunity to join.
Users can select local businesses as their favorites and receive notifications on special events or deals.
“Our app also contains a Discover feature which allows all posts from businesses that you aren’t following in your market to be browsed,” Doufexis said, “so you can find new deals and hidden local gems that you may not have been aware of.”
As shoppers use the app and “check in” at businesses by scanning a Native Rewards barcode at the register; businesses can access demographic analytics. Native Rewards will make a donation to the Hoover City Schools Foundation each time a Hoover resident checks in at one of the merchants.
“Our digital coupons give merchants the ability to control their margins and expand their customer base,” Doufexis said. “And our weekly giveaways reward consumers for shopping locally.”
Each time a shopper checks in at a local business, they are entered in the Native Fortune giveaway. Names are drawn each Friday and the winners receive Native Bucks, which can be spent at any Native Merchant. A portion of those bucks must be spent at the merchant where the winner checked in.
Doufexis said the app has accumulated 48 businesses and 3,752 users since it was launched in Fort Payne on March 15, 2016.
“Since our launch, we’ve given our users and merchants over $18,000 in Native Rewards,” he said.
With Hoover being a much larger market, Doufexis said, users can expect a relative rise in the amount of rewards.
“And let’s not forget that, by shopping local, the city will receive valuable sales tax dollars that will be used to help improve Hoover, as well as the money we donate to the Hoover City Schools Foundation each time users check in with the app at our Native Merchants.”
The Native Rewards app can be downloaded for free through the App Store and Google Play. Merchants who are interested in joining can submit their information online at choosenative. com/hoover. Merchants who are Hoover Chamber of Commerce members will receive a 20 percent discount on their Native Merchant membership fee. ❖