The Times They Are a-Changin’
It’s the turn of a brand-new decade. The internet, once just a tool overwhelmingly used only for messaging, recreation and student research projects, has completely evolved into a platform for the trading of products and services on which businesses can flourish like never before. In 2019, it was estimated that there were almost 2 Billion online shoppers in the world, accounting for almost $3 Trillion in digital spending. (Mohsin, Maryam – Oberlo.com)
Brick-and-mortar businesses, small and large, once thought to be permanent, indestructible staples in our neighborhoods have slowly diminished, leaving vacant retail and office building centers looking like mini-ghost towns. Amazon is king, and to every business owner who is in competition with the retail and multi-service giant, there is an epidemic fear of an impending failure to survive. Big names like Toys “R” Us, Orchard Supply, The Sharper Image, Sports Authority and Borders Books are all now part of a past that new generations will know nothing about, other than what they may read in an economics class textbook. In 2020, Walgreens, The Gap, and Bed Bath and Beyond may follow the disappearing act as they plan to close hundreds of stores as well. (Whiteman, Doug – MoneyWise.com)
The Upper Hand
Is the age of physical foot traffic among the bustle of real person-to-person interactions an archaic way of commerce now? Not remotely. A quick Google search on the topic will show you that the preference across all generations, even the newest “Gen Z” generation, is to purchase items in a physical store. The desire to “try-before-you-buy” may never go out of style, and the enjoyment of leaving the home for an outing of dining and window shopping is still enjoyed and coveted by all ages.
The good news here is that you have the advantage of a storefront, something Amazon does not. The bad news is that that’s not enough.
The remainder of this article will describe ways in which you can adapt your brick-and-mortar business to not only compete with Amazon and other eCommerce dominators, but quite possibly even have the upper hand in your area.
Your New Tools
As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
Success in 2020’s digital world of commerce does not mean that you need to re-invent the wheel. But, it does mean that that you will need to adapt by incorporating new and cutting edge tools and concepts to your business.
1 | Leverage eCommerce apps
You don’t know how to build a website. In fact, the idea terrifies you. Web designers are expensive, and if anything goes wrong, that’s more money out of your business’ pocket. Well, you’re not alone. But today, in the world of apps, this doesn’t need to be a concern any longer. Applications like Shopify, Grubhub, Squarespace and many more, make putting your store online intuitive and user-friendly. And, many offer delivery and other helpful services in addition to a well-supported, professional-looking online space.
2 | Become a public figure
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. Your customers are all equipped with a device that most of them find all-too irresistible to stay away from; a smart phone. Americans alone check their phone about 80 times a day, and when they do, you can bet that Social Media is where they go a majority of the time. Instant information and entertainment is at their fingertips and people are constantly engaged with the platforms that deliver it to them. Start a weekly YouTube product-review series, post pictures of your dishes on Instagram or Pinterest, share a fun tip on Twitter, or do a reoccurring live-stream training class on Facebook. If you own a business, you are, relatively speaking, an expert at something. Share it with the world in small doses at a time while having fun, and make sure to slap a link in the description to your online store every time you do.
3 | Swipe, tap, pinch, drag, double-tap
Back to mobile phones for a moment. Almost 80% of people in the U.S. have a smart phone, and where there are smart phones, there are Apps. With apps, businesses can send out notifications, offer promotions, and share the latest news to anyone who has downloaded it to their phone. And, like websites, nowadays, you don’t have to be an MIT valedictorian to make one. Click-and-create app-builders like Bizness Apps, Shoutem and Appy Pie are available to you right now to help you get your business into the App stores of Android and Apple customers.
4 | Yelp wanted. Inquire within
Social Media and Apps are great tools, but the recommendation of a friend is priceless. Yelp has become the place consumers go before they invest their time and gas money to check out a new store, business or restaurant. The review site not only provides reviews of previous customer experiences, but stacks your business up against your competitors. The more great reviews you have, the more compelling your business becomes. Make sure your business’ information is up-to-date. Set some time aside once or twice a week to read your reviews, and if necessary, address any less-than-desirable feedback with a personal touch and thanks. And in-store, equip your staff with reward-cards or coupons that they can give to happy customers, that offer an incentive for a positive review on Yelp.
5 | Feel-Good, Inc
Most people today have an awareness of their impact on the environment and a sense of responsibility over their actions and decisions. Green practices reduce unnecessary waste and save energy. They also improve the overall efficiency of your business by cutting costs of wasteful materials and their disposal, eliminate spending on printing materials such as paper and ink and reduce your energy bill. According to Forbes, a staggering 88% of consumers who were surveyed wanted the places they shopped to be environmentally conscientious. So, make 2020 the year that you make some changes in your business’ environmental impact, and then tell everyone what you are doing to help. You’ll save some money and be a local favorite.
As the Operations Manager for Sunbelt Business Advisors, Greater Bay Area, a small business just like yours, I’ve placed many of these practices in place and have seen the fruits of our labor. The key is to always look for ideas and try the things that are unique and progressive with minimal costs, especially when you know that your competitors are not doing them. Although the ideas I’ve included in this article can be extremely beneficial, they are not the only new ideas out there. The knowledge to succeed, no matter the economic, political or technological climate, can be found on the very same computer that you use for your daily operations. The internet is your mentor in all things new and it’s your instant connection to the tools you’ll need to make your business thrive above all others. May 2020 Be your most successful year yet!
JC Myer is the Operations Manager with Sunbelt Business Brokers. He can be reached at (408) 436-1900, or at [email protected]