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Fulton Bank
Fulton Bank

7 ways your small business can beat online retailers

Local businesses fill a role in their communities that online retailers can't compete with. As a local retailer, you can capitalize on that advantage and others. By embracing what sets you apart from online retailers, your business can thrive both online and off.

Becoming an active part of your community takes intention and effort. Talk with customers. Ask them questions, share your story, and offer local services that nurture long-term relationships and loyalty. Here are some ideas to get started.

1. Make the most of your physical presence by creating a distinctive shopping experience.

No matter how beautifully designed a website is, it can't match the experience that brick-and-mortar stores can offer. Keep this in mind and try to engage all five senses to create a unique customer experience in your shop—one that customers can look forward to.

Try using a signature scent, playing music, and making the most of your product displays. When possible, let customers interact with your merchandise, whether by tasting samples of a snack mix or testing soaps and lotions. Finally, train your employees to engage with customers and even ask for feedback on products or types of events or services they might enjoy at your store.

2. Capitalize on foot traffic, especially during holidays and great weather.

Online retailers make a monumental effort to capture shoppers' attention during the holidays. Just think about your email inbox leading up to Black Friday. But you have shoppers right outside your doors—give them a compelling reason to come in with an inviting atmosphere and special offers.

Outdoor signage and tempting window displays are key, so consider how you can maximize their impact. Maybe it's with a simple chalk sign that shares special offers, or perhaps you hire an artist to paint a scene in your windows that highlights your best seasonal products. Finally, consider offering street-side samples to help you engage with people as they approach.

3. Use savvy digital advertising with local targeting.

Just because you're a brick-and-mortar shop doesn't mean you can't take advantage of digital advertising. Your local customers will undoubtedly spend plenty of their time online. Why not meet them there? Plus, most digital advertising, especially on social media, offers ways to target customers based on geographic location. Take advantage. If you’re not sure where to get started, check out your local chamber of commerce─they have resources and events that can help you better understand how digital marketing can help give your business a stronger online presence and reach more customers. 

4. Collaborate with other businesses on local events and services.

Consider hosting local events or joining up with other businesses to support theirs. When you do, your business enriches your local community. Could you gather nearby merchants to plan a special market that would both draw more customers and give people something fun to do together? If so, consider how each shop owner can make the market extra special. If it goes well, why not make it a monthly or annual event?

Depending on your shop's niche, you can also brainstorm whether there are relevant classes or related services to offer. For instance, a hobby shop could host parent-child model-building classes, a bike shop could offer repair services, and a beauty shop could provide make-up applications for special events, like school dances and weddings. Or, sign up customers for discounts on refills of their favorite products.

5. Get involved.

Supporting your community is another way to take advantage of your local presence. It also encourages goodwill toward your business. Consider sponsoring local schools and sports teams and donating goods to local charities' auctions. You may even look for community volunteer opportunities where your team can give back while wearing T-shirts with the business' name.

6. Connect with your customers' lifestyle.

As a local business owner, you have a good understanding of your area—the local culture and interests. Maybe you even offer locally made products. Either way, pay attention to how your products fit into your customers' lifestyle and look for additional products or other ways to expand your footprint in their daily life.

7. Beat online retailers at their own game.

Retail eCommerce sales are projected to grow, but that doesn't mean you have to be left out. Why not support your current customers while expanding your reach by getting your business into the online sales game? When you make it possible for customers to shop and pay online, you add another way for them to interact with and support your business. Plus, your local business may offer a bonus to local customers: Shipping time and cost are the main reasons online shoppers abandon their digital carts. Shipping is either too expensive, too slow or both. Could your business do better by your customers, perhaps by offering free local same-day delivery or pickup?

As you consider how to compete with online retailers, remember that your local presence and physical store are assets.  Focus on building experiences and a sense of community, and you're more likely to find success and fulfillment for years to come.



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