According to the Motley Fool, fully one-third of potential retail customers begin their product searches on Amazon. The online retail giant also accounted for $0.51 of every $1 of growth in U.S. e-commerce during 2015 and 24 percent of total retail growth in the United States. This dominance is leaving Amazon’s big-box competitors, like Target and Walmart, scrambling to figure out ways to grow their sales. In fact, Walmart is expecting to see a slight decline in sales in 2015, and Target’s growth is predicted to be in the low single digits. In an effort to boost sales, both retailers are working on improving their online presence, investing billions to grow their e-commerce presence, only to be met with disappointment – Walmart’s e-commerce growth slowed to just 10 percent in the third quarter of 2015, and Target’s was 20 percent.
With this glum news from two of the nation’s largest retailers, what’s a small local business to do? If Target and Walmart are struggling, how is that little shop on Main Street going to make it? The fact is, many small local businesses have not just survived, but thrived, in the Age of Amazon. The world needs small businesses – they are the beating heart at the hub of any healthy and successful local community. Below are some ways that will help you not just give your business a fighting chance against Amazon and the big-box retailers of the world, but become a cornerstone of your local business community:
Offer superior customer service. You are not going to beat Amazon on pricing and be able to stay in business. So you can beat them in other ways, and one of those ways is to offer stellar, superior service to your customers. If you employ quality, motivated sales associates, you will gain – and retain – more customers than other businesses who perhaps sell the same merchandise you do at a lower price. Customers like to be wowed – they don’t need a heavy-handed sales presentation, but rather like sales people who know their merchandise and are genuinely willing to help. Good customer service will bring customers back to your store more than competitive pricing will.
Strive for uniqueness. Start with your passions, and determine if they can be turned into a viable business. To survive the Age of Amazon you need to stand out and be unique. For example, if you like to knit, perhaps a yarn store might be your niche (just check that your community doesn’t have three yarn stores already). You need to make your business the right place (not necessarily the only, see customer service above) to purchase your product. Become an expert on your products and present yourself as the expert, and then offer the best products and services in the area. Design your store to reflect this, using signage and displays. Make sure you are on social media and are posting frequent updates – in today’s social media-driven world, there is no better place to tout your uniqueness and interact with customers and potential customers than on social media. You want your store to be the first place people think of when looking for the type of product you sell.
Utilize digital marketing. Just as social media is an absolute must in today’s commerce world, so is digital marketing, and it’s all thanks to mobile devices. Recent studies show that 8 percent of local searches end up in a purchase within 24 hours, so while the local newspaper is fine for advertising and coupons, you really need to make sure those ads and coupons are online, too. While you’re at it, check your website to see that it works on mobile devices, and if it doesn’t, revamp it. Mobile is so important today. It really can make or break a business.
Work together with other small businesses. No business is an island, and that is even more important today when Amazon Prime members can order the Widget of the Day and have it delivered right to their doors in less than 48 hours. Small business owners need to join together with other owners and local officials to develop and improve the retail environment in their communities, turning them into walkable oases that make people want to turn off their computers and bring their friends – and their dollars – for a truly personal shopping experience. Every dollar spent locally is likely to remain in that community and be reinvested to further develop the neighborhood. Most people would rather see their hard-earned money go towards making their community a better place than to some anonymous overseas vendor who has no personal interest in any customer. Working together with other small business owners can help accomplish that feeling of community among your customers, so that they feel good about spending money in your store.
Unfortunately, as a small business owner, you are not going to beat Amazon. Complaining about it are not going to get you anywhere but out of business, fast. So, instead of commiserating about the unfairness of it all, get proactive. You will survive and thrive if you position yourself as a valuable and unique commodity in your community that offers exceptional, personal service and expertise about your products, giving your customers what Amazon can’t.