The other day, I had an interesting talk with a passionate retailer for snowboard gear. Tom and his team are specialists, they are great at what they do and vastly knowledgeable. Out of professional curiosity, I asked him why they had no online presence. The subsequent chat was an eye-opener for me having been involved in e-commerce for over 10 years…. He was dead against it.
So I started researching what other small businesses think about having an online presence and came across many of the same arguments. Here are the most frequent ones I heard – and my reasons why I believe they should seriously reconsider their opinion:
Tom: “Online retailers are tanking, it’s a race to the bottom as online shoppers sit on their fat ass and search for the lowest price – there’s no customer loyalty.”
To a certain extent that is true – many online shoppers have found what they like offline and use their smartphones to find the same thing at the lowest possible price. We have Amazon, ebay and their ilk to thank for that. As a small business, you won’t be able to match the big boys for buying power or sale throughput – so your margins need to be higher to make a living and you won’t ever match them for price.
However, there many techniques small businesses can use to get around this problem – without it costing them a fortune. You create customer loyalty by the level of service and expertise you offer, combined with fair pricing. As a small pure player, you have to strive for becoming the go-to source for what you offer.
So, send your customers personal emails from you and interact with them on social media – make them feel like they belong and can get personal advice from the experts. Make information easily available to customers and let them know they can pop into your store to try on the gear or feel a snowboard before they buy it.
The pure-play dot.com giants will never be able to match that online-offline mix you can offer. Many small and mid-size companies have found success online by delivering something of value for shoppers that goes beyond low prices.
Tom: “If someone feels unhappy, for whatever reason, they’ll sit behind their computer and talk sh!t about you, destroy your reputation and your business. All while I’m actually working my ass off to make an honest living. The faceless customer is opinionated and demanding sat behind their keyboard.”
Again, there is an element of truth in this one – and it’s the bane of social media. Give users whose cage has been rattled a voice and all they want to do is cause ruckus, post nasty tweets or slag you off on your Facebook page.
The trouble is that they are already there. If they want to talk negatively about your business then they will – regardless of whether you have a website or not. However, having a strong web presence puts you in a position where you can defend yourself much better and nip any outbursts from these people in the bud.
A website with the right dose of testimonials, customer reviews, and the ability for people to come to you first with a problem (either through phone, a contact form, live chat or digital customer support solutions) means you can stop 80% of them from ever going public.
Follow that with an active social media profile and respond to any complaints quickly, politely and effectively. The right social customer service to one dissatisfied client can make 50 other people feel very positively about your brand.
Tom: “We’re old school – our customers get off their ass and walk into our stores where they are welcomed by friendly, knowledgeable and well trained staff. We discuss the customer’s needs and wants as they try various products. That’s something we feel no computer can replace.”
There’s an obvious difference between looking at a snowboard fitting guide online and actually trying one on. A great many factors have to be considered and choosing the right one needs some consultation from a knowledgeable person.
I would have agreed here as well, if there weren’t excellent solutions out there that can closely mimic a consultative sales approach through your website (or even in store if you’re short staffed).
Bear in mind that not every shopper is able or willing to track to your store to receive the advice they need to make a confident purchase decision – and some don’t even want to talk with a sales person.
Today, consumers are faced with choice overload while needing some expert purchasing advice – Making confident decisions gets harder every day. This led us to creating technologies that allow businesses to make their expert advice available to shoppers 24/7. SMARTASSISTANT product advisors can be set up quickly and act as a virtual salesperson with that same consultative sales approach your human employees use to great success. To lower the entry barriers and help smaller companies to get started with offering interactive choosing support and advice, we recently launched Zuvoo Freemium. It’s free to use and has already helped many businesses in a multitude of product categories: Examples
It all links back to the first point about customer service and differentiating yourself from the big online warehouses who don’t know as much about your subject matter as you do. The key here, whether online or in-store, is that you take a little time to plan how you want to support and advise online shoppers. Take a look at this article for some tips.
And once you get more sophisticated and track what answers your users select and which products they’re looking at, you’ll be able to create more meaningful and personalized interactions based on what you know they are interested in. The power of that is phenomenal and can drive both sales and brand engagement through the roof.
Tom: “I’ve got a Facebook page so I don’t need a website”
That’s a good start and is certainly better than nothing. It gives online viewers somewhere to go and find out a bit more about you. But, Facebook can’t do for you what your own website can.
Yes, your Facebook page will eventually show up somewhere in search results, but not high enough for anyone to see it that has typed in a generic search phrase rather than your brand name.
Even local search results will have some details on your business (much like a phone book listing), but the results that are linked to a company website get 5x the traction through local search than those without websites. That means you are literally letting people go to your direct, local competitors.
You also can’t show off your consultative sales approach as easily – in other words, your key differentiator from the big warehouses. Yes, you’ll still have reviews and some of your own content, but none of the tools that can help your selling process the same way a website could.
There are a great many of other hurdles that got thrown at me as excuses by small business owners but these 4 were voiced by nearly everyone I spoke to.
Obviously, there is a crucial point here: Not every company out there is driven by people with the desire to become a regional or global leader in their space. Many just want to make a living out of what they do and are just fine with how things are going as long as they can pay their bills.
That’s fine – But change is happening whether you’re ready or not. It is questionable how long businesses that don’t adopt new technologies and online channels will be able to survive in a rapidly changing world, especially with the rapidly growing expectations of modern shoppers (which Tom so felicitously refers to in his list of problems).
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