BIA/Kelsey, a business consulting firm, defines the on-demand economy as “services that are summoned on-demand through mobile apps, and then promptly fulfilled offline.” Think of it as the Uber model applied to nearly every consumer-facing business sector. It is revolutionizing commerce and is a trend that appears not to be slowing down anytime soon.

It’s also a trend that that local businesses can leverage to their advantage, due to a consumer mindset that now places a priority on convenience. Let’s look more closely.

Consumer Behavior Is Changing

We can attribute the rise of the on-demand economy to a single factor: Consumer behavior is changing thanks to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

A Business Insider article said it best: “Immediate access to messaging, email, media, and other online functionality through smartphones has generated a sense of entitlement to fast, simple, and efficient experiences.”

Consumers want what they want when they want and have turned to mobile technology as the means to get it.

Benefits to Consumers

It’s easy to see the benefits of on-demand to the consumer: convenience, time-savings, and simplicity. Just pick up the smartphone, tap an app icon, click a few times, and get just about anything — groceries, housekeeping, computer repair, piano lessons, dog walking, you name it — delivered right to your door.

The list of service offerings is extensive.

Amazon, which launched a home services platform a few months ago, numbers more than 700 services that include everything from auto repair to home improvement to yard work. Thumbtack, another popular provider, also lists hundreds of services, ranging from accounting to pet sitting to wedding photography. (The site even includes bodyguard and tarot reading services!)

U.S.-based on-demand mobile services, by category.

Benefits to Local Businesses

There are benefits to local retail and service businesses, too, not the least of which is a reduction in marketing costs. For a nominal fee, on-demand service provider websites allow locally-owned businesses to become registered members, enabling them to display their wares for no additional cost, unless they choose to take advantage of extra advertising options.

This approach alleviates the requirement for a business to generate demand for its services in advance using traditional marketing techniques and enables the company to put itself in front of consumers at the time when their needs are the most urgent. It also positions the business among a select group that has been vetted by the site and recommended by customers.

[On-demand] represents a way to restore a Main Street economy that has been vanishing for years.

Another less apparent benefit is that by providing products and services on-demand, local businesses can gain a competitive advantage over big-box stores, most of which offer no such option. It represents a way to restore a Main Street economy that has been vanishing for years.

Ways Local Businesses Can Use On-demand Services

If participating in the on-demand economy seems good to you, here are three ways to go about it.

Go mobile. Consumers use their mobile devices to search for products and services, both through search engines and apps, which mandates the need for your business to embrace the use of mobile technologies. Being accessible via a mobile device at the moment a need arises is a cornerstone of the on-demand economy.

Offer an on-demand service. For retailers, on-demand is often associated with delivery, whether it’s a restaurant delivering a lunch order, a dry cleaner carting laundry, or a supermarket taking groceries to a customer’s home.

If circumstances prevent you from managing this in-house, there are plenty of third-party services that will gladly take care of the task for you — for a fee. Though most are only available in larger cities, their use is expanding across the U.S. to smaller metro areas as well.

Here are some of the popular delivery services:

GrubHub provides food delivery from local restaurants.

(The site, Digital Intelligence Today, has an extensive list of Uber-like, on-demand services worth checking out.)

Home services businesses — plumbers, housemaids, and landscapers, etc. — are accustomed to going to customer’s homes, so the shift to an on-demand mindset may be less of an issue.

But what if you own a hair salon, tailoring business, mechanic shop, or even a physician practice, for instance. Does on-demand mean that you show up at customer’s homes, too? If you don’t, sites such as Stylebee (hair and makeup), zTailors (custom tailoring), Your Mechanic (auto repair), and Pager (health care) have providers who will.

Join on-demand service sites. The home services industry is replete with such sites: Amazon Home Services, Handy, Redbeacon, and Thumbtack, to name a few, and service providers are joining these in droves. Unfortunately, fewer options exist for the retail sector, though that may change as the on-demand economy matures and finds new expressions.


The on-demand economy has disrupted the way retail and service sector companies conduct business. It represents a new model based on consumer demand for convenience, time-savings, and simplicity. Rather than resist this growing trend, local businesses should find ways to leverage it to their advantage, and profit as a result.

This post, How Local Businesses Can Leverage the On-demand Economy, was first published on WebMarketingToday.