Does Your Business Need a Web Aggregator?

To be in business now, you need a web presence. An aggregator lets a small business create an effective Web storefront.
Contributing writer and columnist, Business Insider
February 23, 2012

To be a relevant business in 2012, you need a web presence. Using the services of an aggregator is a good way to establish a Web storefront for small businesses that can’t afford to develop their own.

Many industries have a Web aggregator that businesses can join. Industry aggregators work on behalf of the business, so a small business owner or solo entrepreneur doesn’t have to develop websites on their own.

The restaurant industry has OpenTable. Retail boutiques can turn to Boutiika, an aggregator for the fashion industry.

“Boutiika’s unique search engine lets fashion-conscious consumers discover new merchandise locally in real time," says founder Ruchika Kumar, "while exploring the neighborhoods … of their favorite cities. It simplifies the personalized merchandise-search process with … recommendations and neighborhood maps.” Kumar aims to make her site, with a presence in San Francisco and New York, the go-to aggregator for small fashion retailers.

I spoke with Kumar about her boutique locator and how it works for businesses in her industry. We also discussed how aggregators work for businesses in any industry.

What is Boutiika’s elevator pitch?
We’re a hyper-local search for fashion.

What made you decide to create Boutiika?
I grew up, in Manchester, England. It was mostly chain and high-street stores. I was not happy with those options. Someone else always had what I had and wore what I wore. I had to go to great lengths to ... find one-of-a-kind pieces. When I lived in London, I had my first taste of independent style, and then in New York, I discovered the boutique world.

What's missing in the e-commerce and aggregation platforms and what are you bringing to the table that's different?
E-commerce is insufficient … as consumers seek more options. They want instant gratification, “try before you buy” and individual service and shopping experiences that take place in a store. They don't want to wait on deliveries.

How can a small business go about finding an aggregator?
Start with Google and search on your location plus "services." See what listing sites come up. Typically, aggregators organize around location-specific information or they are industry-specific. Often, towns have websites that include tourism information and local business listings. Other good aggregators are travel sites.

How can small businesses make their own aggregator?
The easiest way to start is by location and round up local businesses … in your neighborhood. To build a Web presence, enlist the help of a local Web developer. When you're creating an index of retailers, basic info should be reasonably simple. Split the cost among the community. Once the site is created, share the URL with neighboring towns to get more exposure.

What's different about your aggregating site?
Most fashion and tech companies are fighting to squeeze more out of the saturated e-commerce and flash-sales market. Boutiika has jumped ahead to the next wave of commerce: online research for offline purchasing. This market is significantly larger. In fact, 94 percent of transactions are still conducted in brick-and-mortar stores, but 70 percent are researched online first.

How does Boutiika benefit retailers?
Boutiika advocates for local stores and gives them a rich communication channel to virtually share their stores with an attentive audience. [The site] leads potential customers into the store to shop.

The payoff for small businesses with brick-and-mortar stores is that they are discoverable online and are put on the map, which leads to foot traffic. Aggregates can be geographically based or industry-based. Most provide SEO and analytics, which can get expensive for small businesses if they go it alone.

How does an aggregator service benefit the consumer?
Aggregators eliminate some of the time and pain associated with Internet research. Go to OpenTable to see all restaurants and table availability in one place. You don't have to contact each business individually or visit multiple websites separately. An aggregator can also act as a referral that gives credibility to small, unknown businesses, increasing consumer confidence.

What have you learned about what consumers really want and don’t want?
Consumers want product. Originally, we focused on telling the boutique story and making the retailer discoverable at a high level. That's interesting, but doesn’t force people to go in the store. Consumers wanted to see what retailers have before they go into the store to purchase.

Consumers want a tech solution that isn’t just e-commerce, but follows their interests online to habits offline in a meaningful, rewarding and non-intrusive way. That is … being tackled across industries.

What industries benefit from partnering with an aggregation system?
Art galleries, furnishing shops, recreation and sports facilities—all industries really.

How do you use social media platforms to advance your site in unique, engaging ways?
Our favorites are Pinterest and Scoop.it. Pinterest is our most powerful social media tool. We take look-book pictures from our website and share them on various boards. Scoop.it is a terrific tool to gather around a topic of interest. It allows us to curate news on our boutiques without necessarily doing the editorial.

Whereas Boutiika is primarily a search tool, Scoop.it lets us feature products and boutiques, and post their news in an engaging way. Its recent business accounts have let us customize our page to be hosted on our own site.

What do you see is still missing from the e-commerce experience?
Integrate or replace POS and inventory-management systems. Provide real-time inventory numbers for users and shoppers at Boutiika.com.

What is Boutiika’s revenue stream?
Right now, it is strictly a research tool. We are exploring features to buy online and pick up in store, which could generate revenue. As of now, the site connects shoppers with boutiques, and vice versa. It's not making money.

Can you explain the name, Boutika?
Boutiika got its name because I wanted to give the word “boutique” a little kick.

What types of aggregation systems do you use personally? Do you use any professionally?

Image credit: Ruchika Kumar