Local businesses can and should win in the new world of commerce.
It’s been well documented that mobile shopping and e-commerce have been growing at a torrid pace and there has been a lot of money invested into the space. However, while all signs point to an impending tipping point for online commerce, the reality is that e-commerce sales still make up below 10% of total retail sales.
In general, consumers still prefer to shop in physical stores but the bigger trend, not just the retail space but everywhere, is convenience. While e-commerce is growing quickly, “near me” searches on Google are seeing concurrent growth (146% year over year). Businesses need to meet their customers wherever and whenever they are –online or off. Amazon’s recent announcement of its second brick-and-mortar store and similar moves by online-first retailers like Warby Parker, Bonobos and Rent-the-runway underscore this fact.
Now is the time for local businesses to start (if they haven’t already) planning their online commerce strategy before they completely miss out on a large opportunity.
Local businesses can leverage their strengths
All of the tech giants and retail giants are actively trying to increase their influence and reach in the e-commerce space but I believe there are a few things that set local businesses apart and ultimately set them up for success online:
Convenience and proximity: Location is still key. You can deliver locally, quickly, cheaply, and offer in-store pickup. Companies like Drizly and Delivery.com certainly believe this as well.
Personalization and Uniqueness: Local businesses offer unique products and there is power in the knowledge and human element that goes hand in hand with local businesses. If you can leverage your “human element” online, you win.
How to start SMB commerce:
Disclaimer: It has to be first stated that running an e-commerce site can be a lot of work. Quite honestly, it may not be a responsibility that SMBs are ready to add to their increasingly busy days. If you haven’t already invested in the basics of online presence and digital marketing (ensuring your website is mobile friendly, making sure you’re producing content, managing your reputation, etc.), you probably aren’t ready to dive head first into running an e-commerce site. But if you’re on top of your basics, it doesn’t have to be difficult to get an online shop up and running.
Start simple. The first key to winning online shoppers locally is to ensure your products can be found online. A growing trend in retail is “webrooming” or searching online and buying instore. Dip your toes in the water, start by creating product showcase pages and let users browse your products online and reserve products in store. Promote your products through the same channels that you are currently marketing on: social media (Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram especially), SEM (Google Shopping, local inventory ads), etc. From there you can easily set up a business PayPal account and assuming your website provider supports even basic e-commerce you can slowly start fulfilling orders on popular products. Learn by doing. As volume builds you can look at getting business accounts with shipping providers and other payment providers if you prefer. The point is you can start small and find success.
That said, maybe that even sounds like too much. Another great way to promote your products online without investing a lot of time and energy into your own e-commerce site is to leverage the giants. Do you sell unique products? Sell them on Etsy. Don’t want to handle shipping and logistics? Set up an Amazon Business Seller account and list your products, utilizing them as fulfillment agent.
SMBs shouldn’t be afraid of extra revenue opportunity and e-commerce can be implemented in a number of models. While small business online commerce requires a hands-on approach, finding a good partner or service provider to help is always a good idea. Lean on their expertise to get started and they can help you learn the basics to maintain this additional revenue stream over time.
Matt Matergia leads North American business development efforts for mono solutions, a SaaS-based platform built for resellers to design, deliver, and manage professional responsive websites and e-commerce sites for small and medium-sized businesses. Matt can be reached on Twitter and Instagram.