In the competitive landscape of today’s retail industry, a small business owner knows better than anyone how critical it is to stay up-to-date, lean, and ever-growing. But when it comes to mega-competitors like Amazon, with big data at the ready and over 300 million shoppers, it’s hard to know whether to follow their lead or walk your own path.
Most experts agree that the best approach right now is to strike a balance between the two. To help you grow your business in this fast-paced time of savvy shoppers with the world at their fingertips, we’ve chosen 5 smart ways to stay ahead of the curve.
1) Launch in-store events and promotions
Experts suggest that you promote at least 1 large and 2 to 3 smaller events in your store each month to bring traffic into your space. If you haven’t handled multiple events before, start with one major and one minor per month and expand from there. Keep it simple. Girls' night out, an open house, or a simple customer appreciation night can be fun and create a bit of buzz.
Invite guest vendors to your events to increase foot traffic and create a celebratory atmosphere.
Add live music for extra atmosphere and include a “Today Only” deal to entice shoppers during the festivities. A “Bounce Back” coupon can be an effective way to get attendees back in the store for another round of shopping as well. Showing heartfelt appreciation for your customers is a winning strategy overall. Another way to keep events simple is to invite guests to hold their own classes or events on your premises.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and attract attention with the more outlandish promotions. Those based on sports teams from the local area or even the weather have been successful. Some stores, for instance, have run promotions where all purchases made on game day were free with receipt if the home team scored exactly 20 points, or all purchases made in June were free if a local area got between 6-8 inches of rain that month.
Of course, those examples may not apply to your brand, but it never hurts to use the element of surprise to your advantage and generate buzz. If you wonder if such promotions are worth the risk, they can actually involve no risk at all with specialized insurance designed just for retailers.
2) Master customer experience
One of the biggest goals in retail today is to ensure that your customers have a satisfying, engaging shopping experience. Customer experience is the new customer service. And, a multitude of store-management issues come into play when it comes to creating a tailored, top-notch in-store experience. The visual appeal of your store,(which includes visual merchandising) the dress and behavior of your employees, and every one of your store policies should be in alignment with the overall experience you wish to create.
Your visual merchandising plan is a part of the overall customer experience.
Most successful store managers will tell you that they strive always to think like a customer. This reframe can put a new spin on inventory management, for instance, and ensure that customers can easily find what they’re looking for when they need it. Just keeping the shelves stocked and orderly is a small step that goes a long way toward an atmosphere of abundance and ease.
Eliminating frustrations, streamlining the check-out process, and looking for any other type of unnecessary friction will help elevate customers’ moods and create positive memories. At a time when customer reviews are worth their weight in gold, attention to detail is paramount.
Don’t forget that the foundation of managing customer experience is knowing your customer. Despite changes in your industry brought on by technology, some things stay the same – solving problems and anticipating customers’ needs has always been at the very heart of doing business. From the words of Jeff Bezos...
We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.
to those of Henry Ford...
It’s not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money... It’s the customer who pays the wages.
...this critical aspect of doing business remains unchanged.
Continually managing and enhancing your customer experience will set you apart from your competitors and set you up for growth.
The customer experience begins before they enter your store.
3) Use your data wisely
Retail has been using transaction data since the beginning of time, but today using every sort of customer and transaction data drilled down to the most minute levels and using it quickly and strategically is a matter of survival. Here are a few best practices for using data wisely:
Target your customers with precision
The more you know about your ideal customers and their buying habits and preferences, the more success you’ll have bundling items and creating up-sell opportunities that will be irresistible. Using the mass of data to hone in on the exact customers you want to target is more critical than ever.
Custom tailor your offers
Using your data to test and then pinpoint the offers that your customers are most likely to take advantage of and using real-time data to make offers relevant and timely, is another way to gain a competitive edge from information you already have.
Blend first-party data with third-party data
First-party data includes what you gather through social media, on your website, and in-store. Third-party data that you purchase from businesses who collect data can augment your own. This blend will allow you to expand your analysis of customers and custom-tailor their experiences as well as your offerings.
The more you analyze your data, the more you can understand your cutomers and anticipate their needs.
4) Expand to new sales channels
One way to grow sales without opening new locations is to expand to other channels. With some advanced planning, adding an ecommerce store to their existing website has allowed many brick-and-mortar stores to reach a new customer base quickly and grow revenues. Throwing your hat into the ring of a platform like Amazon or Etsy is another viable option for growth. As mentioned earlier, Amazon now has around 310 million active accounts, while Etsy has nearly 32 million active buyers, still a huge number of shoppers.
While joining Amazon as a buyer is simple and convenient, joining Amazon as a seller may be simple but should be carefully considered. The “everything store” has created something of a Wild West for sellers, and fraudulent sellers who highjack honest retailer's listings are not uncommon. An entire industry has sprung up to manage counterfeiting and fraud on Amazon, while some small businesses have been destroyed overnight.
The numbers make joining that marketplace extremely tempting, but the reality should ensure that you don’t take the decision lightly and that you cover all your bases if you decide to jump in. Amazon is, among other things, a powerful shopping search engine, so listings there or on platforms such as eBay can drive traffic to your own platform as well.
The majority of cusotmers have engaged with your brand online before entering the store.
Finally, social selling is hard to ignore these days and can be another area for growth. Many retailers use social channels with terrific results, and guides to getting started on everything from Pinterest to Snapchat abound. Services like Soldsie can seriously streamline the process for you. Using an active Instagram account, for instance, Soldsie facilitates a transaction by generating and sending an invoice to every customer who comments “sold” on a post/product.
Again, you’ll need advanced planning and a bit of an investment to make such a strategy work, but retailer experiences have shown that it can pay off big to expand in this area.
5) Use your website to the fullest
Research now shows that 64% of in-store sales are “digitally influenced.” The sizeable percentage of shoppers, nearly 8 out of 10, have already interacted with your brand online before they enter the store. As a business owner, you want to leverage this reality in order to enhance the customer experience in your store.
One powerful and creative way to do this is to bring the reviews (also know as User Generated Content) into the store and incorporate them into your displays. This practice engages your online reviewers on a new level while taking advantage of the fact that peer recommendations are paramount to this generation of consumers.
Specialized shopper apps are growing in popularity. These allow customers to engage online while in your store, receiving information on the location of products and sales associates or tracking their try-ons and reviewing past purchases as they shop. Again, attending to customer experience and opening new avenues of communication and engagement are the main goal when it comes to integrating your website and store. While all the technological bells and whistles do not replace attention to in-store detail and experiences, they can definitely enrich them.
Consumers still love the sights and sounds of an in-store shopping experience that online platforms don't provide.
A few key takeaways
Although online shopping has grown explosively, shoppers still want to enjoy an in-store experience. Retailers can take advantage of technology and leverage data, as well as their own websites. to enhance that experience and pamper their customers. Customer experience remains a critical factor.
While avenues of growth are opening up every day for retail sales, these new opportunities on new platforms still represent an investment in time and money and involve a degree of risk when not planned carefully.
Integrating your online and brick-and-mortar venues while taking advantage of precise customer data and aligning all store policies and procedures towards the shopping experience that your ideal customers crave will help you stand tall above the competition and continue to thrive.
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