Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Small Business Owners Split on Perceptions of Economic Recovery

With Economic Concerns Still Paramount, Reply! Survey Reveals Largest Growth Opportunities in Advertising Services Are in Mobile; Small Businesses Favor Mitt Romney Over Barack Obama by 2 to 1 Margin

SAN RAMON, CA, Oct 17, 2012 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) — Reply!, the leading marketplace for locally-targeted advertisers, today issued the results of its eighth Merchant Confidence Index, a survey of local business owners across the country sharing their confidence levels about the current economy, their expectations of future revenue and their assessment of marketing services. The data shows that economic concerns are still weighing heavily on small businesses, with nearly 60 percent of respondents stating that they believe the U.S. economy was better off four years ago than it is today. With these concerns front of mind, SMB investment in many paid marketing services has stagnated, with very little growth seen in adoption of daily deals and several other paid services. However, mobile marketing is the one channel that is heating up in the small business community.

“Our data shows that American small businesses are still struggling to recover from the recession,” said Payam Zamani, CEO of, Inc. “As a result, small business owners have turned to free social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as marketing vehicles. In turn, they have slowed their investment in paid marketing services such as daily deals, though there are still many opportunities for growth within certain segments of service offerings.”
Key findings include:

1. Small business owners are split on perceptions of economic recovery.
Economic concerns continue to be widespread among small business owners. Nearly 60 percent of respondents believe that the US economy was better off four years ago than it is today; only 22 percent of small business owners believe the economy is better off now, and 21 percent believe there have been no changes. Similarly, small business owners are split on their perceptions of future economic recovery. More than one-third of respondents (37 percent) believe that the economy will be better off a year from now; while 36 percent believe it will be worse and 28 percent believe the economy will remain the same.

However, there is a bright spot. Small business owners plan to do their part to stimulate the economy. More than 23 percent of small business owners plan to increase their headcount in the next six months, up from 21 percent in Q4 of 2011. Meanwhile, 50 percent plan to maintain their current headcount, while only eight percent plan to reduce their number of employees in the next six months, down from 13 percent last year.

2. SMBs slow to adopt paid marketing services, including daily deals and online reviews.
When asked what free social media platforms they use to promote their business, nearly 70 percent of respondents state they use Facebook and 33 percent are using Twitter. However, when asked which platforms they are paying for promotions, only seven percent are tapping into paid promotions on Facebook and only one percent on Twitter.

Likewise, there has been slow growth of other paid marketing services such as daily deals and review sites. Only 11 percent of respondents have run a daily deal over the last six months — the same percentage as in Q4 2011 — and only 11 percent say that it is likely they will run a daily deal in the next 3-6 months.
With regards to online reviews, while 46 percent of respondents see online reviews as helpful to their business, only 10 percent are using paid services and 90 percent have no plans to start using paid review services.

3. Mobile marketing is heating up in the small business community.
Small business owners are turning to mobile to support their business needs. Mobile marketing is on the rise with 8 percent of respondents currently purchasing mobile ads and 15 percent planning to in the next 3-6 months. Likewise, when asked how likely they are to explore building a mobile website or mobile app for their business in the next 3-6 months, 16 percent of small business owners stated that they are very likely to explore this marketing channel. Meanwhile, 17 percent state that they already have an active mobile app or website.

The survey also reveals that SMBs are more likely to use mobile services that facilitate transactions such as Square and PayPal, with 14 percent and 20 percent noting their usage, respectively. An additional 11 percent are planning to start using a mobile transaction service in the next 3-6 months.
4. SMBs unphased by recent high-profile IPOs.

While many SMBs remain pessimistic about economic recovery, these concerns have not translated into negative perceptions about recent high-profile IPOs in the social and marketing sectors. When asked about their perceptions of Facebook as a company after it went public in May, nearly 70 percent of small business owners said their opinion about the company did not change.

Likewise, when asked about their perceptions of Groupon as a company after it went public, the majority (72 percent) of small business owners stated no change to their perception.

5. Republicans have been more effective at positioning the party as supportive of small business interests.
Mitt Romney is favored 2-1 over Barack Obama as an advocate for growing small businesses in the United States. Similarly, 52 percent said Romney was better equipped to lead the US in an economic recovery, compared to 28 percent who said Obama was better equipped; meanwhile, nearly 20 percent of small business owners stated that neither candidate is equipped for the job.

There is also limited favorability for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) within the SMB community. 63 percent of respondents stated that the Act would negatively impact small businesses, while only one quarter (23 percent) said that the Act would positively impact small businesses. Only 6 percent stated that they believe there will be no impact, and 9 percent are unsure.
About the Merchant Confidence Index The Merchant Confidence Index is an annual survey conducted by, a division of, Inc. The Index is designed to track trends in small business sentiment over time and is derived from four key questions designed to synopsize the prevailing trends among local business owners.

This eighth Merchant Confidence Index survey was fielded online, between September 17, 2012 and September 30, 2012, and sent to a random sample of MerchantCircle’s member base of about 1.4 million local business owners. There were 3,434 total responses from local business owners across the United States. Responding businesses classified themselves as legal and home services, automotive, health and beauty, entertainment, travel and more. The survey data can be broken out by state, business type or business size (by headcount) upon request. No incentive was offered to complete the survey., Inc. is not affiliated with any political party. The results of this survey in no way represent the views of the company.

About, Inc., Inc. operates the leading marketplace for locally-targeted advertisers. Reply!’s platform provides advertisers of all sizes with a simple and scalable solution for locally-targeted marketing. Reply! owns and operates many destination sites including, and, which is the largest online network of local business owners in the nation with over 1.4 million member merchants and 17 million monthly local consumer visits. To learn more about Reply!, please visit
Survey Summary

Media Contacts
Rachel Kahn
Sparkpr for Reply!
(415) 321-1881

Reply! Introduces Branded Profiles on!

New product enables large national brands to build a robust local online presence

San Ramon, Calif. – September 13, 2012 – Reply!, Inc. today announced the launch of MerchantCircle Branded Profiles, a new product that enables large, national brands and organizations to build locally-targeted pages for their members on, the nation’s largest online network of local business owners.
By building their locally-targeted online presence with MerchantCircle Branded Profiles, national brands offering local services can build a more robust online presence and more efficiently reach local customers. As one of the top six destinations for local searches, can dramatically increase new customer acquisition for its members. For example, an insurance company can launch profiles for each one of their local agents, and have customer inquiries direct either to each individual agent or to a central corporate location.
“With MerchantCircle Branded Profiles, national brands have an efficient way to enhance their local presence,” said Payam Zamani, founder and CEO of Reply!, Inc. “It’s our mission to make locally-targeted marketing more profitable, targeted and scalable for advertisers of all sizes. Branded Profiles offers national brands a unique way to reach their local customers in every state and every city in the country.”
Branded Profiles offer:
  • Customizable Branding: companies have the ability to control their image and messaging, so they can bring localized branding to the individual communities where their customers are located.
  • Tools to communicate with consumers: brands can insert customized solutions allowing them to efficiently interact with their customers.
  • Request a Quote Button: brands have the ability to direct consumers to their website or directly to their local representatives who can serve them.
  • Call Tracking: merchants can drive calls into a call center or direct consumers to a local service provider via a trackable number on their Branded Profiles.
About Reply!, Inc.
Reply! Inc. operates the leading marketplace for the acquisition of locally-targeted online consumer traffic. Reply!’s platform provides advertisers of all sizes with a simple and scalable solution for locally-targeted marketing. Reply! owns and operates many destination sites including, and, which is the largest online network of local business owners in the nation with over 1.2 million member merchants and 15 million monthly local consumer visits. To learn more about Reply!, please visit
Media Contact
Rachel Kahn
Sparkpr for Reply!
(415) 321-1881

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Winner of the $10,000 MerchantCircle Sweepstakes!

Today we announced that Idaho-based Bonnie Wilks is the winner of the $10,000 Spring Fling Sweepstakes, hosted by MerchantCircle, the largest online network of local business owners in the nation. MerchantCircle kicked-off the sweepstakes in February to celebrate its relaunch as a consumer destination that helps busy people solve everyday problems.

Winner Bonnie Wilks discovered that MerchantCircle was running a sweepstakes while searching online for local deals, and promptly entered. At that time, she also joined MerchantCircle’s “Neighbor” program, which enables consumers to "follow" local businesses for the latest promotions, coupons and announcements. Wilks soon found that she loved writing and reading reviews on MerchantCircle, which today has over 6 million pieces of user generated content, from ratings and reviews to photos and blogs, to help consumers find the best local businesses.

“From all of us at MerchantCircle, congratulations to Bonnie Wilks on winning the Spring Fling Sweepstakes, we are very proud to have you as part of our neighborhood,” said Paul O’Leary, GM, MerchantCircle. “We are also so grateful to all our contest entrants, and we want to thank all of them for joining the MerchantCircle community.”

MerchantCircle allows consumers to immediately connect with qualified providers in their local area, get access to deals, find expert advice and receive free competitive quotes for real-life tasks. Consumers can find providers across all business categories, including home repair and improvement; health and beauty; financial and professional services; construction and real estate services; restaurants; and many others.

The sweepstakes was sponsored by Reply! Inc., and was open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia who were, as of entry date, 18 years of age or older. The sweepstakes period was from February 28 to April 10 of this year only. No purchase was necessary.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Take Control of Your Local Listings

Our goal at MerchantCircle is to connect local shoppers with the best local merchants. We’ve worked tirelessly to make it easy for people to find great businesses that provide quality services. Our desire to connect shoppers and businesses continues even when these shoppers may be searching elsewhere on the Web. That’s why we’ve partnered with Yext to ensure that MerchantCircle members can get found regardless of where shoppers are searching.

Guaranteed Presence

Yext PowerListings allows businesses to control their local search listings across 35 search engines and directories including MerchantCircle, Yahoo! And Yelp. Not only does Yext PowerListings ensure that the name, address and phone number are correct across their network, but it also allows businesses to highlight their listings with special offers, detailed business descriptions, photos and other enhanced content.

Save Time

Business owners no longer have to individually contact and verify their listings on each search engine or directory. PowerListings users can quickly and easily make changes to all of the listings within the PowerListings dashboard.

Track Results

PowerListings gives business owners the ability to see how many times their listing showed in the search results as well as how many times their business profile was viewed. With Yext’s granular tracking and reporting businesses have complete insight and control over their local search results.

How does your business look online?

As a business owner, you might not even be aware of how your business information appears across the Internet. Yext makes it extremely easy to find out with their free business listing report. Simply enter your business information as you would like it to appear, and Yext will create a report detailing everywhere your business information is missing or inaccurate.

Yext PowerListings has already helped thousands of local businesses gain control of their local listings, and we hope it can help you!

The MerchantCircle Team

Thursday, March 29, 2012

MerchantCircle: Making a Difference!

It's often difficult to keep our perspective with the day-to-day demands of working in a fast-paced environment, but, sometimes we need to take a step back and remember that the work we're doing does make a difference in our members' lives.

Check out this great "behind the scenes" video starring several of our members from the Los Angeles area:

So, to our 1.2 million merchant members: we are humbled and honored to have some part in helping your businesses succeed.  Best of luck to you and your families and thank you for your support!

The MerchantCircle Team

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

You Spoke, We Listened...and It’s Working!

As you know, we recently updated the website experience.  It’s only been a few weeks, but we’re happy to report that consumer engagement with the site (especially merchant listing pages) is at its all-time highest level!  

This means that more consumers are finding more businesses on MerchantCircle than ever before.  Customers are spending more time on Merchant business listing pages, and they are reading and writing reviews about Merchants they love.  This has been our goal from the very beginning - connecting local Merchants directly with Neighbors who need their products and services.

The recent improvements are the direct result of Merchant feedback.  We asked what you thought, and you told us what you liked and what you wanted to see done differently.  We took what you said to heart and focused on the features and capabilities you valued the most.  

  • You asked for improved search across the site - you got it!  
  • Merchants didn’t really care for the anonymous reviews, so they’re gone...replaced with reviews from registered MerchantCircle Neighbors.  
  • The pages are cleaner, less cluttered and it’s much easier to find what you’re looking for.  

We will continue to make improvements that make the overall MerchantCircle experience better, faster and more relevant.

In fact, on the development side, our MerchantCircle Product Development Team, the magicians behind it all, have been working their magic indeed. The team has been using a version of Agile Product Management (it's a tech thing) that allows us to push updates to the site much more often. This means that we can resolve issues faster, add features quicker and easier, and continue to improve the Merchant and Neighbor experiences as fast as we can.

Over the next several months, you can expect to see more features and new capabilities for both Merchants and Neighbors.  Here’s a short list of the stuff we’re focused on delivering in the next month or so.
  • More social media features and functionality
  • A new mobile app - an extension to the 4.5-star rated Merchant app
  • Prominent focus on Reviews & Compliments
  • Optimized search functionality making it smarter and easier to use
  • Better "request a quote" functionality to reduce the time from search to transaction
If you have suggestions, questions or any other input - please join us on the MerchantCircle Forums

The MerchantCircle Team

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The New MerchantCircle: We've Remodeled!

With the new year upon us, lots of folks start thinking about embarking on remodeling projects. Here at MerchantCircle, we spent much of last year remodeling the site, and you could say we learned a few things.  We thought we’d share our experiences with all of you out there thinking of taking on a remodeling project, no matter how big or small.  

Here’s what we learned...

It’s good to have a plan...but plans change.  Looking back, our original plan didn’t take into account the complexity of the task ahead.  As we went along, we learned a ton about the site and each other.  The biggest lesson: the only way to make real progress is to get out of the “planning” phase and into the “doing” phase.

Everything takes longer than you think.  That’s probably true with many things in life, but definitely true with remodel projects.  You don’t know what you don’t know, at least until you start tearing things down.

You’re never really “done”.  Just when you think you can’t go on a day will find yourself checking things off your “punch list”.  The initial project will get done, but the tweaking, tuning and improving never ends.  

If you’ve recently remodeled (your kitchen, a bathroom, or maybe even your business website) share your experience in the new MerchantCircle forum

Now for the good stuff…

The launch of the new and improved MerchantCircle is a key milestone in the integration of MerchantCircle with Reply!.  As you can probably tell from our new homepage, we’re refocusing MerchantCircle a bit to help busy people get things done – big and small – by connecting them with a network of local business owners who are eager to help.

Here’s what’s new on the site…

For consumers (we like to call them MerchantCircle Neighbors):
·      Better search experience – three search bars focused on finding merchants, answers, or deals
·      New localized category pages that includes top merchants, deals, and advice (see examples here and here for examples)
·      More prominent display of top-rated merchants
·      Integrated “request a quote” functionality on listing pages, category pages, city pages
·      Easier access to expert articles and advice

For our fantastic merchant members:
·      A completely new support section and fresh user forums 
·      Reorganized layout for claimed listing pages to drive more user engagement
·      More prominence for photos and a new Photo Viewer
·      No more anonymous reviews
·      Better promotion of content and better search through new categorizations for businesses

And we’re not even close to done…in the coming weeks, we’ll announce other exciting improvements!

Stay tuned...

The MerchantCircle Team

P.S. To learn more about the new, improved MerchantCircle, we've created this handy-dandy FAQ

P.P.S. We’ve also create a whole host of “how-to” videos to keep you up to speed on the new features available to you

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Q4 2011 Merchant Confidence Survey -- Full Results

Several folks have asked for the full analysis from the Q4 Merchant Confidence Index survey, so here ya go!  This presentation is chock-full of stats pertaining to small business owners' thoughts about our economy, the future of small business hiring and trends in the adoption of new marketing channels like daily deals, pay-per-lead and mobile advertising.



The MerchantCircle Team