Independent retailers have found a profitable niche in the sale of unique gifts that express thoughtfulness and sentiment, but most importantly stand out from the cookie cutter gifts purchased from big box retailers. Main Street USA can often promise an unusual present, “that has a great story behind it,” says Alison Jatlow Levy, a retail strategist, noting, “Local stores can add to the treasure hunting aspect of gift shopping that the national chain stores often miss.” Being different and offering one of a kind merchandise is the top criteria in creating a successful retail market, especially during the holiday season that typically makes up 20 to 30 percent of retailers’ annual sales, according to the NRF.
Driving Sales in Small Storefronts
However, there is more to the equation for success and survival. As USA Today explains, “While many small stores have a special cachet, they typically lack the resources of their larger competitors. Stores that don’t place big bulk orders miss out on hefty discounts. Smaller shops’ often tighter return policies and less convenient hours add to the challenge of competing with chains.” While unique and unusual merchandise might draw customers to your storefront, below are some tactics to help drive the sale home:
Focus on personal service. According to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, a survey conducted in the U.S. and nine other countries, “70 percent of Americans surveyed are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.” Confirming this, a nationwide survey conducted for the Consumer Reports July 2011 edition reveals that, “64 percent of respondents said that during the previous 12 months they had left a store because service was poor, and 67 percent had hung up on customer service without having had their problem addressed.” The survey also reports that, “65 percent felt ‘tremendously annoyed’ about rude salespeople.” In addition, 56 percent were bothered by having to take multiple phone steps to reach the right place. You could seek out numerous consulting firms that offer you and your staff training in quality customer service, but a few simple steps in polishing up your demeanor and service may be all you need to boost sales.
Play up community impact. According to the Northwest Earth Institute’s Choices for Sustainable Living, “A dollar spent at a locally owned store is usually spent six to 15 times before it leaves the community. From $1, you create $5 to $14 in value within that community.” Yet retailers can’t expect customers to support their buy local campaigns without verification that the retailer they are supporting is in fact an active, involved and helpful member of the community, local and worldwide. There is value to incorporating a ‘giving back’ strategy and approach, not as an add-on to how you run business at key parts of the year (the holiday season), but rather by fully integrating ‘giving back’ as a way of doing business. While most independent retailers have only enough resources to give back to their local community, that is enough and speaks highly of any retail brand. ROI can’t always be measured in terms of dollars and cents. Philanthropy provides broader benefits, such as earning goodwill with future long term customers, attracting new customers to the brand, and PR.
Tap into social media. Businesses and independent retailers have a legitimate place on Facebook. With 600 million members, Facebook promises more than friend requests and fan bases, acting as a marketing tool to access the millions of shoppers that login on a daily basis. Gigya, a Software as a Service (SaaS) technology company, integrating online businesses and social networks, released a white paper on the three best practices to ensure expected ROI from Facebook. The goal is to create a customer experience that reflects your brand, and Gigya’s researchers believe this is possible with the following practices:
1) Integrate Facebook features into your website design. You don’t necessarily need to send your customers away to be social.
2) Incorporate ecommerce and social best practices both on your site and on Facebook.com. Keep the browsing and shopping experience consistent on both sites, making the customer feel as if they are viewing an extension of your company website.
3) Close the loop to enable seamless shopping. Understand the power of the “Like” button. So what if online viewers like your product and they’ve let everyone know on their Facebook wall? The important question: Did they buy the product? If you are looking to make money, this is the question you have to answer.
Don’t give up on traditional. There remains a traditional form of marketing that doesn’t involve tech tutorials or search engine optimization (SEO) know how. In-store marketing provides the opportunity to present a clear and direct message to your target customer, the one already walking your aisles or approaching your checkout counter. Are you doing all you can to entice the customer at the point of purchase? Although merchandising displays are important, in-store marketing is more than product setup. In-store promotion can have an interactive feel as well, such as having experts on-site to give advice and staff presenting product demonstrations. You can also enhance your ad campaign by displaying ads on-site. With these in-store promotions you may not only change a shopper’s perception of a product, but change their purchase behavior as well.
As we move into a new year with new possibilities, brick and mortars trying to keep Main Street thriving need to be different. The ways to express and promote your unique business are unlimited, but as an independent you want to remain true to your customers. It’s the look of the shop, its character and your character that draws them in.