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Let’s face it: the internet is never going away. However, for some small retailers, the disruption caused by the internet has been a painful experience.

It’s also undeniably a major contributing factor to the reduction in the number of retail outlets that are open and doing business.

So what can small retailers do? Starting with planning, I’ve outlined some steps you can take to use the internet and other digital technologies to their advantage (most of which comes straight from our How The Internet Can Save The High Street report and follow on from a speaking event I did with Royal Canin). 

This is a bit of a long post, so you may wish to bookmark it to return to later. Or take a nosey at our Fast Track Digital Marketing training to get a further deep-dive into what I describe.

Read below to find out how to start moving!

Planning

1. Understand your current situation and brainstorm accordingly

Before you get cracking with any efforts, it’s worthwhile to reflect on how your business is doing in the current situation.

While you can spend a huge amount of time doing this, the main areas you should focus on are:

  • Revenue. Is it going up, or going down? What areas of your business could be bringing in more money? Are there any products you should be selling more of?
  • Costs. Are your costs going up? Where could you potentially save some money?
  • Customers. Do you know who they are? What efforts are you currently making to engage them?

Another approach you may find useful is to analyse your efforts in the context of the marketing funnel. Have a think about where you may be lacking. 

At the same time, do pat yourself on the back! Think of your strengths as well as your weaknesses when doing this exercise.

2. Prioritise your most pressing issues

As a small retailer, you likely don’t have the luxury of time or copious resources to get things done.

Therefore you should prioritise the list of issues you’ve created and just choose a few to focus on.

You can always add more later when you’ve tackled some of them.

3. Set goals and objectives to tackle your most pressing issues

One often-used mnemonic (particularly within Econsultancy) is SMART. This is a way of creating objectives which have the most utility.

Your objectives should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timed

Once you have set your objectives then you can start to think what you can do to help you achieve them.

Quick wins

If you’re short on time and just want to do something rather than nothing, these tips require almost neglible technical skill and if you’re focussed should take you less than half a day to kick into action.

4. Put your business on Google Maps

It’s free and will get you seen on search engine results pages. There is no reason not to do this, unless you deliberately want to sabotage your efforts.

Sign up for Google Places now

Make sure you test it out for the search terms you want to rank for, and consider paying to have a sponsored listing.

5. Register all social properties and put them on your phone

Speed is important on social media, so the easiest way of being able to respond quickly while you’re on the shop floor is to put the accounts on your mobile.

This way when a question comes in or someone mentions your company, you can get back to them straight away and make a real impact. 

When registering your social properties, something you’ll likely find super-useful is this small business internet checklist kindly made by Chris Gilchrist in our Digital Marketing Template Files. Do check it out.

6. Steal internet reviews and bring into your store

(Note: some websites may have certain T&Cs about their content, so use this one fairly and with caution)

Studies have shown that consumers trust customer reviews very highly, so if someone has praised a product online, make sure visitors to your store can see that praise!

Look at the products you could be selling more of and the products that make you the most significant returns. Then go online, get the reviews, print them onto a piece of paper and stick this paper on the shelf.

7. Promote loyalty schemes and email sign-ups

Some of your suppliers may have loyalty schemes for consumers, even though they do not sell direct. If so, have a look at how you can use these to your advantage.

An old-school method of doing this is to get a large goldfish bowl and invite people to drop business cards into this in return for a prize draw or other incentive. Place blank pieces of card with a pen nearby for those that don't have a card to hand.

Make sure there are some blank cards and paper so those without business cards can give you their details! And make sure you don’t sit on these contacts – they’ve opted-in and given you their details, so market to them!

8. Put WiFi in your store and let customers know about it

We've previously discussed the benefits of wi-fi a lot on the Econsultancy blog.

In short, it's a good thing.

Buy a wireless router and make it free for people to use. If you’re really hesitant, put a sign up saying people need the password from you first (it’s an excuse to open up a conversation with the customer, and perhaps make them a bit guilty about showrooming).

But also, make sure you follow the next tip…

9. Stick online calls-to-action around the store

Have a Facebook page where you regularly post interesting content? Or a Twitter feed where you answer customer queries? Or particular articles on your site that tell customers more about the products you sell!

Let your customers know about it! As shown in our recent consumer survey, more than half of consumers are using their mobile while out and about.

Take advantage of this, stop them showrooming and send them in the direction of your site with a few pointers.

A little bit more involved…

The next tips are again easy, but will probably require a bit more thought and time. You’ll also need to review your efforts here on a regular basis. But they will reap dividends…

10. Build or review and refresh your website

I’ll have to give props to my former employer Nakea here for a good place to set up a small business website, but there are others too.

For those looking for a do-it-yourself approach and don’t mind getting a bit hands on with some basic website work, Wordpress or Bootstrap are good places to look in terms of getting a basic web property that’s easy to set up and maintain.

Other ecommerce suggestions are listed in our Ecommerce Platforms Buyer’s Guide.

If you already have a website, this is the time to have a think about giving it a refresh. 

Make sure all key information is on the site. This includes:

  • Address
  • Details of product range
  • Opening hours (you’d be amazed how many local businesses fail to provide this)
  • Contact telephone numbers, social accounts and email addresses
  • Directions – using Google Maps or similar services always helps
  • Details of any current in-store promotions.

Then, think of your online value proposition. As our eminent Chris Lake has described, customers will leave your website very quickly if there is no reason for them to be there or if you irritate them. 

Your potential customers should know exactly what value you offer as soon as they hit the page. Many businesses (including Econsultancy) do this by having a “jumbotron” at the top of the page. 

Others look to communicate some core points. The 'rule of threes' works well here, so you may wish to communicate your value proposition with three punchy bullet points.

11. Make sure you can track activity on site

As a small retailer, you probably have a good idea of how many people come to your store, what your busiest times are, and what your customers are like.

Making sure you have some kind of analytics tracking on your site will allow you to do the same.

Google Analytics is free and will provide you with more than enough information. 

If you’re new to analytics, try not to get lost in the reams of data that this tool can present. The vast majority will simply not be relevant. Instead, focus on the following:

Do remember to tag all external links you use with the Google URL Builder to make sure you can record where your traffic is coming from.

For those looking to kick it up a notch, I’d recommend going on our Google Analytics training where you can learn about how to get the most out of this tool.

12. Set up some online advertising

Small businesses are often surprised at how cheap online advertising can be.

There are usually no minimum fees (or if there are, they are small to the point of negligible) so do get your hands dirty and see what the affect is.

The biggest tip I can give here is to really narrow down the focus of your advertising and cap your budgets. Both Facebook and Google will default to large, crude audiences which for a small retailer are highly unlikely to deliver return on investment.

Also, make sure that when you set up any online advertising you are tracking the results accordingly.

By integrating your Google AdWords account with your Google Analytics account this will be done automatically, but for Facebook make sure you are tagging the links you share properly so that you can track your traffic in Google Analytics.

13. Establish a content and communications calendar

When you are running a store there is often little time to think about marketing and outreach activity.

However, by creating a content and communications calendar in advance you can take a lot of the creative stress out of producing content on a regular basis.

In addition there are a huge number of tools which allow you to time the output of content in advance. Buffer is an example of a tool you are likely to find useful here.

For those taking it up a notch…

14. Start selling online

With online spend now approaching 30% of all UK retail spend, there is no doubt that small retailers need to consider selling online.

For those looking to dip their toes in the water, marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon offer an opportunity to try and see if they can manage the logistics of selling online, although in many cases (especially where you want to scale) it is best to do everything on your own domain. 

Again, our Ecommerce Platforms Buyer’s Guide is a great place to look for advice.

15. Tie up your in-store and online technology

Once you get to a big enough size, you will need to make your processes more efficient while also improving the customer experience. For this it is likely you will need to join up several technology systems.

Many ecommerce platforms, EPOS systems and email marketing / CRM tools offer off-the-shelf plugins to allow you to integrate these systems in an efficient manner. 

16. Start some serious content marketing and thought leadership

They say that everyone today is a publisher, but few have a huge audience that keeps on coming back for more.

While building a full content marketing program is a strenuous task that requires ongoing discipline, it can lead to a long-term and sustainable source of inbound customers

17. Build a community

Possibly the most challenging yet most rewarding step you can take is to build a community around your shop or brand. But it is also extremely difficult.

The Crouch End Project by Clare Richmond at Speak To is one example done well, but with other local communities rallying around their businesses there is an opportunity for many if they can successfully sow what they reap.

What are your tips?

Help improve this list for all small retailers. What steps have I missed out? Where have you experienced success? Or are there any warnings you want to share?

Let us know in the comments below!

Andrew Warren-Payne

Published 13 November, 2013 by Andrew Warren-Payne

Andrew Warren-Payne is a Senior Research Analyst at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or Google+

55 more posts from this author

Comments (10)

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martin flanagan

martin flanagan, Jupiterblue

Some useful points. One area small retailers can often trump the big sheds is on customer service so I'd make sure testimonials, product reviews and service reviews e.g. Trustpilot have a role to play.

over 2 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Managing Director at EnchantSmall Business

Nice article that I'm sure a lot of small companies could benefit from. One thing that I think could also be added to this list, is efforts to innovate. Innovation often forms product or brand differentiation and for a small retailer, spending a little time on innovation can be the difference between joining the rest of the competition on the internet, or truly having something unique to bring to market.

over 2 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

A good list and for number 7, 'loyalty and email signup' this is a good move.

Traditionally once someone leaves your store you have no way to communicate with them and bring them back.

Email generates online traffic and offline footfall.

Providing collection of email addresses using SMS can also be effective. Including the call to action on in-store print/poster as well as print that gets taken out - such as receipts.

For offline its more effective than giving someone a URL, in this study 3.3 times more
http://www.zettasphere.com/email-list-growth-increased-3-3x/

over 2 years ago

Andrew Warren-Payne

Andrew Warren-Payne, Senior Research Analyst at Econsultancy

Thanks for the tips all. Some great feedback.

over 2 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Managing Director at EnchantSmall Business

+1 to Tim Watson's comments - spot on as always.

A couple of other ways to direct offline prospects/footfall/customers to digital and email that we have found successful are as follows:

1) The use of QR codes in POS materials (and this really depends on your brand and how appropriate this is)

2) The use of DM/paper campaigns to dynamically capture email address for customers you don't have this for. It can be simple, or really unique by applying personalised URL's

over 2 years ago

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Jacques

Collecting email addresses offline is indeed a very powerful way to (re-)engage the conversation with customers. For stores the christmas period is a perfect opportunity to increase the email database size. When doing offline data collection keep an eye on:

- what information do you want to acquire, is it only email ? or more... ? how about rating ? interests ?
- how will this data be used, can it be integrated into an existing e-CRM ?
- just like online registration is important to thank customers that register and create that warm feeling
- and as a final point analyse the data and report on it to understand who is registering, when, where...

One of our customers is currently doing extremely well in this data collection process, more info: http://bit.ly/18wq3R8

over 2 years ago

Andrew Warren-Payne

Andrew Warren-Payne, Senior Research Analyst at Econsultancy

Thanks for the further additions Jacques and Philip!

over 2 years ago

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Clare Richmond. Founder Crouch End Project/ Director Speakto

Good article.
In my experience an online presence & digital platforms can be a huge opportunity for small retailers, but content is always king.

There is a fine line between informing and bombarding, but time needs to be spent online keeping up with conversations, creating your own, and responding to customer feedback. Its not something you can set up and forget - Also don't forget the importance and impact of good design and easy navigation.

Offline, and easy to implement, but again needs thought..

Customer experience must be a priority - thats how you can begin to add value and differentiate.

Don't forget windows if you are a retailer - best advert, at least make sure they are clean!

Strategic partnerships can be very powerful - whether with other local businesses or local organisations.

over 2 years ago

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Cathy Hu, SEO at Shoplet

Nowadays, more and more small business intend to get involved in online marketing. Not only because online marketing helps them save money, also because it is time saving. I work for a small company called Shoplet, and we benefit from internet marketing a lot.

over 2 years ago

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Cathy Hu, SEO at Shoplet

These points are so helpful for small business like our company. It's a E-commerce company(http://www.shoplet.co.uk/) relies exclusively on web marketing.

over 2 years ago

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