Rudy. Rudy. Rudy.
While it’s not always easy being the “little guy,” it does have its advantages. Everyone loves an underdog, and as impossible as it may seem sometimes, the truth is small business owners can play to their strengths and gain the advantage over their larger competitors. With big budgets, glitzy websites, and established names, large retailers seem to have it all. But what they don’t have is the dedication, personal touch, and ingenuity that today’s entrepreneurs and small business owners exemplify.
That said, retail competition is as fierce as ever, and small business owners have to be ready to adopt new technologies and tools to level the playing field. Following are some things small business owners can do to compete with and even gain an edge over their larger ecommerce counterparts.
The Tools Are There – Use Them
If you haven’t already, you should establish an online presence. Having a website that highlights what’s currently in the store, special promotions, events, collaborations and classes will go far in helping bring customers to your store. A website is often a customer’s first point of contact with your business, so be sure to build a website that showcases what you and your brand are all about.
So many of today’s consumers are using their smartphones to search and shop – whether while just killing time or when searching for a desperately needed product or service. Without an online presence, potential customers will not know about your store, let alone be able to find it. And if they do know about your store but can’t find you online, their impression may be that you lack credibility.
In today’s world, you don’t need to learn coding or spend a fortune to set up a website. Research and explore “website builder” tools online, which can get you started for free and make setting up a basic website easy. As you create your website, make sure to include keywords such as the city and zip code where you are based, along with the products and services you offer. Your store and website should also be listed in the local online business pages to help search engines find and list your store in search results.
Once your basic website is established, you can make the decision to go the extra step and sell your products online. This, too, may not be as complicated as you think. Research your web builder for ecommerce tools, and check with your merchant services provider for ways to accept payments online.
As you embark on the journey of owning and operating a website, the next step is to engage. One way to do this is through social media, which can help build your presence online. With pages on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, small business owners can involve customers in their decisions and interact with them in a more personal way. For example, taking an Instagram poll is a fun way to involve customers. Managing and posting updates to your social pages shouldn’t take a lot of time – simply share what’s new in the store, behind-the-scenes, and any other information your customers may find interesting.
Another good way to interact with customers is through online review sites. Thanks to Amazon, the online review has become one of the biggest influencing factors for consumers – shoppers have even been known to step out of the checkout line after reading bad reviews about a product. Using local review sites such as Yelp and Google Reviews will go a long way toward building your store’s success. Be sure to monitor and address any less-than-flattering reviews, doing so with positivity and invitations to reconnect. When a customer compliments your service, products, or store, encourage them to leave a positive review online – doing so will have a great impact on future customers.
It’s All About the Experience These Days
So all your efforts of building an online presence are paying off and more people are visiting your store. Now what? Getting customers into your store is just the beginning. Consumers want to feel like they are getting something of value by coming into your store versus ordering online. Give it to them by having a friendly, knowledgeable staff that can provide excellent service and personal attention. Your staff should not only have a good understanding of the products they are selling, but they should also be able to connect with customers and anticipate their needs.
Beyond your staff, there are lots of ways you can go above and beyond to make your store a more appealing place. For example, have an area for kids to play or offer a lounge section if space permits. Offer free samples, and of course offer free Wi-Fi. Consider hosting events related to the products or services you provide – cooking classes, yoga, interior decorating, writing workshop, painting, landscaping, personal style, etc. Think outside the box.
The store itself should also be inviting and reflect the feeling you want customers to have when they visit. Make sure customers can easily find what they are looking for, keep the shelves and surface areas organized, and have signs displayed with prices and additional information. Often, soft music or scents from candles and diffusers are good ways to make customers feel at ease. Offer ways for them to experience your products and experience what your store is all about, whether it be through a behind-the-scenes look of how the product is made, tasting a fresh recipe, or trying a shade of lip gloss. Finally, customers love to know where their purchases are coming from, and, when it applies, who is making the product. Providing this kind of detail is a nice touch to personalizing your store.
Closing the Deal and Looking Forward
Considering the level of modern technology available, the checkout process should be the smoothest and easiest part of the customer’s experience. Ensure a fast, secure and hassle-free checkout for customers by accepting all the ways they may want to pay, including EMV credit cards and NFC payments like Apple Pay.
As you look for ways to further your engagement with customers, consider creating a customer loyalty program. Your POS software may already be set up to run a loyalty program. Using customer information and tracking purchases, you can tailor a program that rewards people for coming back to your store. Some POS systems will also send messages to customer smartphones when they are near your store, alerting them of special promotions for insiders.
What it all boils down to is this: embrace your roots and be the best small business you can be, but don’t ignore important online tools that will enable you to level the playing field and meet all of your customers’ distinct needs. Don’t be intimidated, and remember that there are plenty of simple, inexpensive tools that can get you started on the ecommerce journey. Couple a great online presence with the personalized customer knowledge that only a small business has, and you will have a winning combination that increases customer engagement and interaction, all while maintaining your small, local, underdog identity.