Remember the first time that traditional retail stores were supposed to disappear due to competition from online outlets? Amazon introduced the Kindle, a bunch of bookstores eventually closed, and plenty of pundits envisioned the same thing happening in a host of other retail niches. Take a walk through the downtown of any busy city, and you will quickly see that reports of the death of traditional retail were greatly exaggerated. It’s not just that traditional retail can still thrive, but that we have access to a more diverse, eclectic mix of small business than ever before!
Don’t Overlook Customer Experience
The traditional retailers that succeed today do need to work harder than ever to maintain that success. However, the most successful retailers know that the customer experience is the key to a thriving retail business.
The most important thing to remember, whether your aiming for a strictly local audience or branching out with your traditional retail business, is that the customer experience is the number one key to success. There’s no way around it, because your customer base has no shortage of options if they feel that the customer experience is sub-par. This includes customer service of course, but also the way you present your business, how active you are in engaging customers who don’t have a specific customer service need, and how you differentiate yourself from the competition.
Export Your Local Uniqueness
If you want to order a beer that’s been brewed in your community and crafted with unique, local ingredients and unusual flavors, you can probably find a few microbrewers nearby. Want some hand-crafted clothing, unique home-goods, or attractive art? Even the tiniest cities will often be home to small, locally-owned retailers that offer unique products to suit every lifestyle… a great example in LA, and one that I am very fond of, is Sheehan and Co. However, those small, locally-owned businesses don’t have to be limited to a local consumer base!
If you offer truly unique products, you can share them with the wider world by selling them online, without taking anything away from your traditional customer base. If you offer a superior level of service – which is always a good idea – then you can translate that to an online audience as well.
Your Biggest Differentiator: Being Human
Convenience is the name of the game with online marketing, and there’s no denying that online retailers often have an edge in the convenience department. If your small business sells products that can also be found on big-box online retailers for the same price, your customer base is going to need some incentive to forgo the convenience of ordering with one click and having the item they need show up at their door the next day.
However, a smaller traditional retailer can offer many things that a large, faceless company cannot – even if that large company is very well-run. If someone has a question, comment, or concern, you can address them directly, person-to-person, find a unique solution to their needs, and even “break the rules” if that’s what it takes to provide the best possible service. You can learn the names and faces of your customers, get to know their families, and make genuine, personalized recommendations.
You build relationships with the customers in your area over time, learning about the types of products that they like to shop for and making sure you have their favorite items when they need them. You can create a unique, attractive retail space that encourages your customers to have fun while they shop. It’s amazing how much you can add to the customer experience by being human, and remembering that your customers are human, too.
So many businesses are already taking this advice to heart, and it’s a big reason why I see smaller traditional retailers – the type you’ll find in every city and town – making a big impact well into the future. There will always be competition from large, online retailers, but you can offer much that the biggest brands simply cannot. If you are a large retailer… think “small’ and bring that personalized small business experience to you customers.
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