Stand out in four steps: How local retailers can compete with big brands online


Shop You founder and CEO Kelly Slessor.

Generally speaking, local retailers have had it tough for some time now.

A reduction in high street traffic, a shift to online, increased competition from overseas and changing consumer behaviour has driven many to close their doors.

Those that have fought through are now faced with one of the most challenging times in the history of retail.

Not all will make it, but for those that do, the opportunities to grow and to stand out in an online world are bigger now than they have ever been.

As we faced restrictions and lockdowns, availability and local convenience became a priority.

We have seen searches for ‘available near me’ grow globally by more than 100% since last year, and 66% of shoppers say they plan to shop locally, according to Think with Google.

These stats point to the fact that customers are increasingly searching online for local businesses.

In fact, local e-commerce grew by more than 80% year-on-year in the eight weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, according to Australia Post.

For local retailers, it has become apparent that being local is not enough. Having and growing an online presence and being found online is critical to success and survival.

Shifting to and standing out in an online world is not easy for many local retailers. Often, they lack the skillset, funds, time or simply fear the unknown.

Having worked with hundreds of retailers and supported two retail innovation programs through COVID-19 (in partnership with La Trobe University, City of Sydney and Investible), I have developed four key steps for growing local retail online.

Step 1. Know your customer

This is not just marketing speak, this is a margin and profit-driving requirement.

In an online world, we are driven by CAC (cost to acquire a customer). If we all try and acquire the same customer then the cost to acquire that customer goes up, through a competitive bidding system.

The average cost to acquire a customer in Australia is over $25.

For many local retailers, this doesn’t stack up commercially, so there are a number of ways to reduce this cost.

Be clear on who your customers are and target them with the right keywords and messaging. This is where local retailers are uniquely positioned to win over large retailers, as they have a deeper connection to their customers. The opportunity is to take advantage of this knowledge online.

Connect with the customers through storytelling. People are much more connected and engaged with local businesses because, generally, they know the people and stories behind them. Communicating these stories online positions local retailers in the minds and hearts of their customers and cuts through the noise and competition.

Use local references on your website and online advertising. Customers search for terms such as ‘gifts near me’. Google knows the customer location and will provide them with websites relevant to them.  The more information that a website has in relation to location, the higher the chance that Google will present it to a local customer.

Step 2. Plug-and-play

Most local retailers are not trained e-commerce experts and do not have access to a digital team or resource.

Utilise platforms that allow you not only to set up in hours and at relatively low cost but also give you the ability to add in other services such as payment solutions, with the click of a button.

Platforms such as Shopify provide templates and plug-ins that are easy to set up.

There are literally thousands of plug-ins that help improve customer experience and drive conversions online and instore.

Step 3. Offer convenience

Prior to COVID-19, logistics was viewed as an add-on, but now, retailers realise it is core to the customer experience.

Due to restrictions, safety concerns and convenience, the pandemic has driven the rise of click-and-collect services. In fact, 57% of people said they intend to order online and pick up their goods at local stores, according to Mckinsey & Company.

For large retailers, shipping costs are the number one reason for cart abandonment. In fact, $18 billion in revenue is lost per year as a result of customers abandoning carts, according to Dynamic Yield.

This presents an opportunity for local retailers to capitalise on, through the promotion of the advantages of click-and-collect.

Step 4. Choose your channels

Local retailers can’t be all things to everyone and can’t manage every single channel, so it’s important to pick the right channels and focus.

Understanding what customers do online and which social channels, marketplaces and search engines they are using predominantly will allow retailers to drive down the cost of acquisition.

Google recently announced several initiatives which it believes could help SMBs generate billions of dollars in e-commerce sales.

These include free shopping ad listings and Google search listings, as well as Shoploop, a product video platform that has been described as ‘TikTok for shopping’. All these features are currently only available in the US, but will no doubt be implemented in Australia at some point in the next year.

Since most Australian shopping searches start on Google, it is critical that local stores ensure that their Google business page and overall Google presence are up to date.

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