Online, no-one can see you’re small

Online, no-one can see you’re small
“It is surprising how many shops don’t know how to keep up to date with Google business so that people can easily find them.” Anonymous respondent

We spoke to 40 small retailers as part of our research for Autumn Fair (trade show for retailers) about what their challenges and recommendations are for 2017. Here’s a bite-sized summary of how they’re approaching the challenge of pushing back against those online retailers.

Thank you to those who shared their views with us, I hope it’s useful. Look out for ‘Think small, Think added value’, and ‘Battling the big boys’ for more direct advice from your peers.

Sophy

Editor

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The good thing about being online is that nobody can see you’re a small retailer. The bad thing is this means if you’re not as slick as John Lewis, they’ll think it’s your fault. We asked a panel of respondents how they worked against the big companies online and the answers were many.

  • Older people, counterintuitively, weren’t intimidated by the Internet and nor were they afraid of the competition. Instead, and without infringing copyright(!), they ransacked the online giants for ideas on promotions, bundling, anything that might work for them.

  • A number suggested that a website should be more than just the extension of a physical store. If you can offer only a basic transaction in which a customer buys your stock and Amazon can do it more cheaply, guess where the customer is going. If you offer advice and your own expertise, the giants can’t compete.

  • Ignore “received wisdom”. Our responses suggested that social media may not be the best way to engage with customers searching on local directories like Scoop and Yelp. You’re likely to have finite amounts of time; make sure the information on those sites is up to date.

  • Tools are available to you to keep your online offering constant. “It is surprising how many shops don’t know how to keep up to date with Google business so that people can easily find them,” said one respondent. “They want to see photos etc. This is the nut and bolt of things…”

  • If you’re going to use social media or other platforms, have you checked where your customers hang out electronically? If you’re in a business to business environment they may be on LinkedIn rather than Facebook, for example. Ask them – then go where your market is.

  • Do you employ younger staff who are on their smartphones the whole time? Or older, let’s not stereotype…anyway, they have digital skills. It might be worth establishing who can do what electronically and redeploying some of the skill sets already in your business. One respondent reported recruiting from universities purely to get at these skills, and it had paid handsomely.

  • One respondent noted that it’s possible to get obsessed with statistics, and that someone will always find a stat that appears to apply to you (and which, we could add, will mysteriously make it plain that the person offering the stat has exactly the service to help). There is one stat that matters: after setting up your website or going online in another form, has your business increased?

  • Partnering with a blogger can be a good idea as long as you set a realistic objective. Electronic business because you think you ought to is a recipe for disappointment.

Finally, watch out for the big lie about social media and other electronic marketing: the one that says it doesn’t cost anything. This is only true if you value your time and that of your staff at zero; assess the cost of building your business electronically, make sure you’ve set targets and milestones and you’ll have something to measure against.

Good luck!

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