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The 800 Pound Gorilla: The Internet eTailer

Amazon is just revolutionizing retail, any other adjective or any other verb would suffice. They are changing the way every retailer on the planet is thinking about retailing, and if they aren’t, they should be thinking about it differently because of Amazon, even Big Box retailers have had to change the way they do business because of Amazon so why should independent retailers be any different?

It’s important to keep in mind that the online consumer is wealthier than average. According to a report by Forrester Research, online buyers with household incomes of $75,000 or more represent the largest group of the online consumer population. In fact, they make up more than 40 percent of all online buyers—almost twice the number of those with household incomes of $50,000 to $75,000. These consumers have considerable spending power, making it important for businesses to invest in the e-commerce space.

Here are a few tips for how retailers can build an e-commerce business to compliment your retail shop fit for today’s demanding consumer:

1. Offer free shipping, or at least pay for returns. Having to pay large shipping fees on a domestic order is a huge turn-off for a customer. Retailers like Amazon have created the expectation that postage is free. Studies have shown that many consumers would rather pay extra for the product than have to shell out for shipping.

2. Create loyalty programs to reward the best customers. Big retailers are basing these off of airlines’ programs, where the more you buy, the more perks you get. A loyalty program gives the consumer a big incentive to shop at the online store. The online format also allows customers to track their “points” or rewards and be involved with the retailer on a personal level.

3. Demonstrate how an item looks or works using video merchandising. Zappos.com (which is owned by Amazon) gives shoppers a video demonstration of most of the shoes, garments and accessories it sells so they can better evaluate them. Rather than trying to read the dimensions in the fine print, a customer looking for a tote bag can just watch a video of a model carrying it on her shoulder to gauge whether it is the right size. If a business can’t do videos of products, photo demonstrations will do.

If customers can order easily with free shipping, there is no reason for them to order on Amazon over any other retailer online, we’d also point out specialty retailers have the advantage of offering better products than anyone else.

With a few steps to make the consumer happy, any business’ website can compete with Amazon.

How to Compete with the Big Box? Think Locally

When Retail Giants Come To Town

What do you do as a small, independent retailer when a major food chain, big-box store or national franchise becomes a direct competitor? All along you’ve been specializing in items that aren’t in the mainstream but sell well, and then some big box outfit decides they’re going to build in your community, do you hide your head in the sand and wait to be driven out of business or do you take proactive steps to stay in business?

Perfect examples of this are Walmart and Target Stores, the retail giants are on a building spree, Walmart moving into small to mid-sized communities with Neighborhood Markets and region serving Superstores and Target with it’s Target Express stores with a paired down inventory of its big brother. When this happens, what can you as a specialty retailer do to remain in business and retain your dominance in any niche market?

Your first reaction might be to lower prices in order to compete with the big stores. But that’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight. There’s no way you’ll ever compete on price. Yet there are steps that specialty merchants can take in order to maintain position. Here’s a list of things your business can do to maintain the customers you already have and win even more business when being forced to compete with the retail giants:

  • Connect with locals using social media. Large chains and franchises typically do a terrible job of maintaining social media profiles in the local communities where they have stores. Set yourself apart by ramping up local engagement via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.

  • Blog locally. If the big boys even have a blog, they’re not likely spending time focusing on local issues. By frequently blogging about topics that your local customers actually care about, you increase your store’s odds of generating positive local search results online. And you’re telling your customers they should have more — not less — information about the products and services you sell.

  • Support local causes. National chains move slowly, especially when it comes to sponsoring or supporting local events. As a local yourself, pay attention to what’s coming up on the local events calendar and join up with civic-minded organizations that are targeting the same people who might like to buy your products or services. Supporting local causes endears your brand among your target demographic.

  • State your differences as positives. Don’t bash the competition — either in front of your staff or with customers. Instead, point out the clear differences between your offerings by speaking in positives, not negatives. For example, “Featuring locally-sourced ingredients that are healthy for you and your family since 1997” is a better message than “Buy local!” or “You call that organic?”

  • Use size to your advantage. In most cases, everything you see on the shelves of a big box or chain store, or being sold or offered by a franchise, is there because one person — a national buyer or category manager — approved it. You, however, can start selling a new item on a moment’s notice. By specializing in the niche items that helped you build your enterprise, you’ll continue to drive business in your direction.

 

Why your Brick-and-Mortor Store needs a website

In the mid-1990s, smart, forward-thinking businesses were asking some valid questions about whether to explore this new world called “The Internet.” Since the World Wide Web as we know it was still in its infancy, business owners were wise to be a little cautious about committing resources to something unproven that also threatened to disrupt traditional commerce methods.

Even analysts were hesitant early on—Newsweek columnist Clifford Stoll had nothing but disdain for the brave new online world in a 1995 piece. Economist Paul Krugman also speculated in 1998 that the Internet would grow slowly and never catch on as a serious business tool any more than the fax machine. Boy were they wrong.

This new model meant that people no longer had to visit a brick-and-mortar store in order to shop or browse. They wouldn’t see the great displays, and shop owners suddenly found that business was more competitive, since consumers now had easy access to products from anywhere in the world. Embracing the concept required a shift in thinking, spending, and merchandising for small business owners.

So while it was probably wise to be a little cautious and take a wait-and-see approach back then, these days more and more business leaders are concluding that being an online hold-out may cost you money. In fact, 93 percent of purchases begin with an online search, which means that without a website, you only have access to seven percent of the existing market.

You can see how having a website can help people in your community find your business. And that isn’t the only benefit. Here’s our list for why having a website for your business is an absolute must:

24/7 Exposure. Why put an end to shopping opportunities at six p.m.? Your brick-and-mortar location has “office” hours and people who wish to make a purchase or simply have questions will have to accommodate this schedule. But the convenience of a website, especially one that offers e-commerce, is that people can take care of their business on their own time. They can browse, shop, read your FAQs or send you an email—all while you’re sleeping or enjoying dinner out with your family. So quite simply, the more exposure you have, the better chance you have of making a sale.

New Customers. You probably have loyal shoppers who live or work in the neighborhood, but you are missing out on a whole other world of potential customers just because they don’t live in your zip code. Even if you distribute flyers, advertise in the local papers, and send out email blasts, you’re still limited to the customers you know, their friends and family, and other locals. Having a website allows you to tap into a national or international market that is already out there and grow your customer base—not to mention increase sales.

Easy and Cost-efficient. Sure, web design used to be complex when people had to calculate their own color values and program each element of a page. But these days there are plenty of free, do-it-yourself website builders, not to mention a slew of tutorials for all skill levels. WordPress offers thousands of drag-and-drop templates so all you have to do is find one that you like and enter your business’ information. Once you feel a little more comfortable with this basic set-up, you can look into plug-ins, which are smaller programs that can be added to your WordPress page to further customize it. BusinessNewsDaily suggests some other tools to improve your organization, including ways to make your website show up in searches better—which means more traffic to your e-commerce site.

Credibility. Research shows that 89 percent of today’s shoppers prefer to shop online over at a store for the convenience, and the younger generation may even be suspicious of a business’ lack of online presence. Including a website in your branding strategy gives you the credibility that consumers are looking for when they are at the point of purchase. Your website should include a blog where you (or someone you hire) writes posts about your product, service or industry in a way that makes you an expert and the go-to website for information or tips. This furthers your reputation and gives you more credibility, which can, in turn, lead to more sales.

Pre-sell Products. With a website, it’s easy to pre-sell your products that are still in the production process. All you need is one or two quality photos, an alluring description, and an availability date. Get people excited about your new product well before it ever hits the shelves, and gather the customers’ pre-sell orders through your website. Keep in mind that an online presence doesn’t exclude a brick-and-mortar shop; you can always allow shoppers to place the order online but encourage them to pick it up at your location. This is a clever way to get people into the store and create a reputation for being a business with stellar online and offline service.

Stay Current. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 470,000 small businesses close every year. This means that today’s mom-and-pop store owner needs to be a marketer, a social media strategist, a PR expert, a skilled salesperson—and, of course, have a top-notch product to sell. While this may sound like a lot, it is easier to do when you have a website, because much of it is taken care for you. For example, building a website with WordPress makes it simple to optimize your site with keywords for high search engine ranking (marketing), link up to all your social media accounts (social strategy), and include quality photos that, with your eye-catching product description, is sure to draw in customers (sales).

In conclusion, having a website for your store will lead directly to increased sales. So build or commission a website for your mom-and-pop shop and enable more people in your area to discover your local, personalized, in-store service!

Request your Free Quote and see how having a Website for your Brick-and-Mortor Store can help you.