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Canadian Local Product Search Engine ‘SokoLocal’ Surpasses 1.5 Million Products as it Supports Small Businesses: Interview

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Calgary-based SokoLocal, a new local product search engine, has surpassed one million products in cities across North America.

“We started SokoLocal to help better connect shoppers with local businesses,” said Nikhil Sonpal, Founder, MQLabs. “The interest and growth we have seen in the last month, including cataloguing more than one million product listings on SokoLocal, is made possible because of the passion people have for supporting the communities in which they live, solidifying the need for this type of innovation. With SokoLocal, we have managed to streamline that process helping businesses and consumers alike, which is something we are very proud of.

Image: Nikhil Sonpal

“It’s a product search engine. I felt that there was this whole movement afoot for finding local businesses, supporting local businesses. But the challenge, at least for me, I don’t know that these local businesses exist. I personally don’t shop for businesses by name. I shop for products. So that’s where the idea came about – to create an interface like Amazon, to give users an Amazon-like experience but the convenience of what the underlying technology that Google has to catalogue and index content that is on these websites.

“What Google does for search in general, we’re trying to carve out a niche for searching for shopping for local products.”

SokoLocal, created and developed by MQLabs, a Calgary-based technology company, launched recently and has since grown a strong presence in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Toronto, with additional cities across North America currently in development.

Image: SokoLocal

Sonpal said the search engine hit one million products on June 1 after launching March 1. As of June 18, it was 1.5 million products.

Featuring products from local vendors, SokoLocal allows consumers to search, browse, compare local prices and purchase their favourite products online directly from the retailers. Since launch, the online marketplace has seen significant growth and popularity in its Alberta markets and continues to offer their services to new cities as it expands its reach, most recently in Manitoba and Ontario and the United States with Austin, Texas. Now, with more than one million products available, there is no shortage of selection or accessibility to a wide variety of local products, explained Sonpal.

“It’s a fully automated system. We’ve built it using the latest and greatest technology with all the abbreviations that everyone uses in tech. So it has machine learning, it has AI capability into it,” said Sonpal, adding that there’s very little human intervention in the system. “The idea for us is to grow this globally. We are trying to make sure that local is not a fad and we can provide the convenience of finding local and by doing so we feel Soko fills that niche.”

Supporting local businesses is a vital step in creating new opportunities within local communities. Over the last year in particular, small businesses have been met with unprecedented challenges and have been struggling to stay afloat among giant competitors with international backing. By offering a platform that allows small businesses to increase their visibility and connect with shoppers in their area and around North America, SokoLocal aims to revitalise local economies and direct sales to those who need it most, explained Sonpal.

The impetus for the venture was an injury he received from cycling one day earlier this year. He broke two ribs cycling. He wanted to find local products but was having a hard time doing that.

“I’ve been in tech now for 22 years . . . The motivation for me is I really want to help small businesses be able to run their businesses efficiently and I think the biggest challenge that small businesses have is how do you get the word out to consumers that you exist. I am saddened by the state of ecommerce in the last year and a half being perceived as the next gold rush and I don’t want small business owners to feel helpless and to be taken for a ride where they feel they have to spend in some cases an unbelievable amount of money to get the word out to get consumers to come in because traditional advertising or marketing doesn’t work. Because it’s digital,” he said.

While shopping in physical stores is starting to open up more and more, the convenience of curbside pickup and the movement for buying local should remain.

“The messaging I’m trying to get out there is there is an alternative. That you don’t have to spend in some cases some businesses are being told I hear $2500 a month in Google ads and Facebook advertising to just get the word out and that’s preposterous to have to do that. I know $2500 a month is nothing for large brands but that is significant to a small business owner that’s an owner/operator.

“I wouldn’t say this is a philanthropic initiative because this is a for profit business and we have monetization paths in place that we will be releasing over the next couple of months but our focus has really been my focus predominantly to give business owners the tools to be able to get their products marketed. And consumers shop for products. They don’t shop for (businesses). And that’s the niche we’re trying to fulfill.”

The SokoLocal app is available for Apple iOS and Android Devices.

For more information, to browse local products, or have a local business added to the directory, visit sokolocal.com.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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