Harnessing the Power of Apps for Small Businesses

Local, small businesses find themselves in a hard spot, especially if they’re retail, because large online entities have more resources to market to customers while maintaining lower prices. Product price isn’t a selling point in an environment where a competitor’s price is easy to find and match. When products are the same and all prices are even, one characteristic that distinguishes a local business from others is physical community—customers in the flesh, of the same town, who can actually meet each other at a mutual point in time and space.

Web-based businesses have created virtual communities by harnessing social media, videos, and customer-generated content to foster a sense of interaction, but only local brick-and-mortar businesses can gather customers in one place every week by way of special events. What many local businesses don’t consider is that through hybrid, native apps on mobile devices, they could be doing a lot to bolster this most-prized characteristic.

I’m always distressed when I find a local business that thrives on interaction, but doesn’t embrace digital interactivity. Many of the specialty shops I frequent to find art, food, snowboard gear, or used camera equipment—very particular items—seem to resign their online presence to a strictly static website targeting desktops. That doesn’t have to be the case. The standard of HTML, the new features of CSS, and the multitude of JavaScript libraries—not to mention JavaScript component vendors like Syncfusion—means a useful mobile app is within reach of any business.

When you look at companies whose business model, in essence, is the app itself, you see why they would choose native development. But for local businesses—in small, niche markets—an app only needs to allow customers to access an updated schedule of events, find directions to the nearest store, order online and pick up in the store, and, most importantly, find coupons. Any other features are nice, but not essential.

With a hybrid-app strategy, a local business would find it easier to contract, or dare I say even hire, a small squad of developers to create a custom app. It’s not unreasonable to think so. The feature-set we casually call HTML 5 will, in time, ensure consistent content rendering across mobile device platforms. Hybrid app frameworks, such as Orubase, already allow development teams to operate in one code base and output to multiple mobile platforms. All driving down the cost of app development, making such development within reach of small, independent businesses.

One aspect of the hybrid scheme that is important to small businesses is the separation of web-based content from the native app shell. Small businesses are eager to update content, and if the content sits on the server side, then it’s easier for non-developers to make updates to events, sales, and promotions without potentially disrupting the core functionality of the app.

We have a lot of great local shops in our communities. Many of them have histories and personalities far more compelling than their static websites convey. Mobile apps shouldn’t be the sole domain of large companies, not when solutions like hybrid apps can provide far more reach for mom-and-pop shops.

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