Small business owners have often viewed online and in-store as rivals competing for customer attention and spend, but this is changing. The future of successful Australian retailing lies in the two working together, to create a complete, omnichannel customer experience.
Customers no longer see any difference between your online presence and your physical store. They expect the same level of service, the same brand feel and the same shopping experience from you no matter what. It’s all about creating a unifying experience across all your sales and promotional channels.
Online has the power to drive customers in to a store if they are researching products on the internet and want to touch, feel, try on or collect.
Online can also increase loyalty. For instance if your store is based in a particular area, perhaps frequented by lots of out-of-the-area visitors during certain times of the year, you can use your online store to capture repeat sales. If a customer came in once and bought a product that they loved and you offer an e-commerce experience, they can place their next order online.
So, online doesn’t have to be at the expense of bricks-and-mortar retail. There are a number of ways small businesses can use online tools to grow your retail store. Here are some top tips on how to do this:
1. Start thinking like your customer
The first place a customer now goes to shop and look for something new is not the high street, it is the internet. Are you where they are?
The best way to find out is to ask them. This is easier for smaller retail store owners who interact with their customers daily. What kind of online platforms do they use? Would they appreciate advice and tips, or perhaps they want exclusive previews of new products? Once you identify how your customers like to shop, where they look for new things and the experiences they enjoy, you can work to make it happen.
2. Ramp up your social channels and photography skills
Social channels, particularly Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are becoming more influential in generating sales for retailers – and this is all about great imagery. If you’re not confident with taking photos, take a course in photography basics, or enlist a talented staff member to help. Use images to create interest in items that are available to buy immediately and then send people somewhere they can buy it from you. For example, stagger new product ranges and announce ‘new in-store’ items on social media weekly, or even daily, and mention the other colours available in the store.
3. Get on the map
Make sure your business is easily found on online channels. An internet search is what modern shoppers turn to in order to find products and stores. The best way to be visible is to add your company details and website information to Google Places. It’s free and is the first thing people will see when they search for you online.
Also be sure to add your address and contact number to your company description on social media accounts. This will show online and mobile users that you have a physical footprint and encourage people to check out the store in-person.
4. Use Google Adwords
It might seem like a big step but it can have a huge impact on your business. If you don’t know much about online advertising and search engine optimisation, hire a consultant who does. There are lots of experts who can help establish strategy for your business and secure the online visibility it needs. And then you can then set the rest up yourself, as the Google system is easy to navigate. Make sure your ads are visually appealing by always including an image. Most Google ads are just lines of text so this is an easy way to stand out from the crowd.
5. Invest in good content
Create interesting and well-designed electronic direct mails to your customer base. But make sure these emails always provide value; they must compel people to open the message and take action. Include a strong offer, great images, or exclusive deals and previews. You’ll build a loyal following of repeat customers, and can use it to drive traffic into your store.
Jason Philactides is vice president of Sales for APAC at Vend. These tips and more were shared by Vend at its recent Retailer Meet-up series on omnichannel retailing. Vend’s monthly meet-ups are free to attend and bring together local retailers to discuss industry issues, developments, tips and tricks, in an informal setting. Find out more here.