Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Caroline Brady from Pointy. Her company Pointy helps businesses bring customers to their store, get products online and appear higher in ranks on Google with the purpose of selling more products. For more info: www.pointy.com
SmallBizLady: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing independent brick and mortar retailers today?
Caroline Brady: Visibility online is a huge problem for brick and mortar stores. Currently, most independent retailers rank number one when you search for their store’s name. However, even if someone is 50 feet away from them searching for a product they stock, the customer is going to see an Amazon result rather than their local store.
SmallBizLady: How can retailers overcome this challenge?
Caroline Brady: A lot of the time, people have a clear intent when it comes to what product they want but they don’t know where to find it. These are the customers you want to make sure they find your store. In order to improve your store’s visibility, it’s vital that you display your products (name, image and short description) online.
SmallBizLady: What are independent retailer’s main strengths and how can they use them to compete with Amazon?
Caroline Brady: Convenience, customer service and in-store experience are all huge strengths that Amazon cannot mirror. Customers who are doing local searches for products are usually in a hurry. They want the product now and they are not willing to wait for shipping. Local stores can beat Amazon by providing customers with the products they’re searching for instantly. Brick and mortars should use this to their advantage by providing additional services that Amazon can’t. Ordering products for customers and offering personal advice will help to promote repeat purchases.
SmallBizLady: Does being online mean you need to sell online?
Caroline Brady: No, a lot of brick and mortar retailers believe they need to be doing e-commerce in order to compete with Amazon. This is simply not true. You can be found online, but sell offline. An independent retailer’s main strengths lies in the in-store experience they provide. 72 percent of US consumers cite “the ability to touch, feel and try products” as their top reason for shopping in brick and mortar stores. It’s all about leveraging your online presence in a way that drives more traffic into your physical store.
SmallBizLady: How can I improve my customer’s in-store experience?
Caroline Brady: One big advantage independents have over online giants is their ability to build personal relationships with their customers. Remembering people’s names and giving helpful recommendations will make your customers feel valued. Go the extra mile by hosting in-store events such as customer demos and special sales. These events will give you the opportunity to get to know your customers better and promote repeat purchases.
SmallBizLady: Is it difficult to improve my customer’s online experience?
Caroline Brady: Not really. A robust online presence is essential in this day and age. A one-page website with your contact details and opening hours just isn’t enough when you’re competing against giants like Amazon for customers. Having a live catalog of your in-stock products online not only helps drive new customers to your store but also lets your existing customers check what you have in stock, prompting them to return to your store instead of buying from Amazon.
SmallBizLady: Is there a way to get my products ranking highly on Google?
Caroline Brady: One place where the online giants consistently win currently is in their rankings on Google and other search engines. The more places your store is visible online, the better you’ll do in Google search results. In order for your products to rank highly you’ll first need to list them online. Explore using simple tools that will help by displaying all of your products online and optimizing your product catalogue so that it displays on page one for local searches.
SmallBizLady: Are social media and newsletters an effective way to compete with Amazon?
Caroline Brady: Social media has transitioned from being a fad to being a mainstay of any store owner’s strategy. Independent retailers need to remain in their customer’s mind space consistently. A combination of social media and newsletters will help you to develop customer relationships and remind them when they need to make their next purchase. Use social media to interact with your customers, gain feedback and keep them updated on what’s happening in store. Use newsletters to let them know about new products or events in-store that you think they’d like.
SmallBizLady: Does it matter if my website is not mobile-user friendly?
Caroline Brady: Absolutely! Mobile is critical! Mobile traffic is now much bigger than desktop, particularly true for local searches. However, a lot of retailers have not updated their websites to be mobile friendly. Use tools that evaluates your website across different metrics and provides you with a detailed report on what you could be doing to improve your website and attract more customers.
SmallBizLady: How can researching retail trends help me to compete against Amazon?
Caroline Brady: With Amazon and others building artificial intelligence engines to figure out what products are going to be successful, it’s essential for store owners to constantly keep ahead of new trends in order to compete. Dedicating some time each week to researching macro and micro trends in your market will pay dividends in helping to both retain existing customers and acquire new ones. However, knowing these trends isn’t enough. You need to be willing and able to act on them in order to stay ahead of the crowd.
SmallBizLady: Are there any new retail trends that independent brick and mortar retailers can take advantage of?
Caroline Brady: One of the biggest trends that has emerged in the last few years is the rise of local searches. People are finding everything from restaurants to products & services by doing local searches on the likes of Google and Bing. In fact, in 2016 the number of ‘near me’ searches actually surpassed searches for weather on Google! This increase in local searches is a hugely positive trend for brick and mortar stores as it highlights the proximity advantage they have over online giants. By making themselves more visible in local search results, independent retailers can leverage this trend in a way that increases footfall to their store.
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