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Local businesses must compete in the digital age


At the risk of repeating myself, allow me to share one of my favorite quotes. General Eric Shinseki told his troops, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like insignificance even less.

All great changes are preceded by chaos and upheaval; you must be willing to sacrifice where you are now for the vision of where your dreams can take you. Although we have seen changes over the past few years, I believe we are on the verge of even greater and unprecedented changes in the future. Will we manage this change on our terms or sit back and act?

Let’s start with a critical element. Local businesses should create/upgrade their websites without hesitation. Just as a downtown is the look into the heart and soul of a community, your website is the look into the heart and soul of your business and what it offers. It doesn’t have to be expensive in today’s tech world, but having a viable and functioning website is an essential part of your business’s future success.

Don’t fall for the hype that everything is done online. Two years ago, more than 90% of retail sales took place within the walls of retail establishments. While covid-19 has changed that forever, as things normalize you can expect in-store shopping habits to improve as we have discovered that we humans are looking for the interaction. That said, don’t get comfortable; there is a significant shift towards digital purchases and that will not change. Be aware of these patterns and modify your strategies as needed to ensure better traffic and better in-store results.

Second, make sure consumers can find you, physically and digitally. Make sure you’re active on social media and let everyone know your opening hours. Does your listing show up on Google Maps? When people drive by or walk by, are your windows and facade attractive? Just as your website is the heart and soul of your business digitally, so is your storefront and storefront for your physical location.

How does your business appear in the world of digital search words? Google a few of your key products or services and see where your business appears or how far you need to scroll down to find your store. Don’t get me wrong, while many go back to brick and mortar shopping, they get there by Googling where to spend their money.

Third, when online, regularly respond to interactions quickly. Just as we expect great in-person customer service, consider this your online customer service portal. Great service goes a long way. As we chat online, avoid stagnation; rotate your web photos often – after all, pictures are worth a thousand words.

Fourth, in addition to stellar customer service, make sure the inside of the business is warm and inviting. Can buyers easily find what they are looking for? Make sure it’s easy to get around the store. Cluttered aisles are one of the biggest downsides to enjoyable shopping experiences. Always remember that uniqueness creates a mood. The mood you create today determines who returns tomorrow.

Fifth, always look for ways to communicate after your customer’s first visit. This is where a digital strategy can be king. Always have in-store and digital promotions, drawings, contests, sweepstakes, surveys and games. With technology, it is now very simple. I am always amazed at how people provide email addresses and cell phone numbers with a chance to win something. I am also amazed at the number of companies that do not have a communication strategy. This should be at the top of any business plan. If you are a food service establishment, always have a method to keep customers coming back. It’s amazing how easy and effective a simple punch card, printed or digital, can be to keep diners coming back again and again.

Always think of several visits. Few businesses can survive when customers only visit their location once. The most successful businesses always rely on the frequent return of their best customers. What is the lifetime value of a frequent customer? Every business needs to understand this number and the impact on the business. Frequent customers ultimately determine whether a business has the sustainability to survive for the long haul.

Start with simple email marketing; it is the place where the opening and response rates are excellent. Although it is becoming less effective, use social media to tap into large communities of consumers residing in your target area. There is no simple or one-size-fits-all solution. Being aggressive in promoting or marketing your business is a must. The passive will surely die.

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John Newby, of Pineville, Mo., is a nationally recognized publisher, community, business and media consultant and speaker. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street” column appears in many communities across the country. He is the founder of Truly-Local, dedicated to helping communities, building excitement and energy, and combining synergies with local media to improve their communities. He can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.