Superior Customer Experience is the Gift that Keeps on Giving All Year Long

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All brands and retailers are competing against each other for sales this holiday season, and the surge in e-commerce has favored big retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target thanks to accessibility, convenience, and marketing dollars. Local businesses, which previously thrived on outpacing big brands with superior in-person customer service, are now being pushed to adapt to the new consumer, one who spends less time browsing a retail location and more time scrolling online.

So what can local businesses do to keep up with the retail Goliaths of the world? The answer: provide a superior customer experience, wherever that customer is.

Big retailers versus local businesses

Large online retailers and service providers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target have conditioned consumers to expect a digital customer experience that includes real-time order status via text, email, or app, simple self-service returns, and 24/7 phone or self-service support for orders and account changes. While this has become the norm, the reality is that it’s not always in the cards for SMBs. Typically, these business owners do not have access to the technology or the manpower that big business uses to provide the top level of service. 

Only accelerating because of the pandemic, technology has infiltrated all aspects of running a business, beginning with streamlining internal processes and trickling down to consumer-facing use cases. QR code menus at restaurants eliminate touch, and further adoption of touchless onsite payments, like Apple Pay or contactless credit cards, are all working together to limit direct contact and increase speed and productivity onsite. These types of interactions have become the customer expectation, thanks to moves by chains.

However, local businesses have an opportunity to catch up to big businesses. In fact, some of local businesses’ original strengths — better, personalized customer service, a unique selection of merchandise, and keeping money within the community — continue to attract consumers, and remain differentiating factors unavailable to larger competitors. The weight these strengths hold is undeniable: A recent study showed that 82% of consumers would spend more to support local businesses. 

How local businesses can close the gap

While the hold that local businesses have on consumers remains strong, business owners can’t ignore that 70% of consumers who intend to support local businesses will do so online this year, and there is still work to be done to make the SMB online customer experience competitive. 

Mid-sized local businesses must look to more readily deployable e-commerce and customer experience solutions that can be deployed with less developer and IT involvement. This includes solutions like Shopify for commerce and Stripe for payments. Another resource is Mercato, which offers local retailers instant delivery services while taking on the technology integration work. Imagine your local grocery chain with same-day delivery, real-time delivery tracking, and even self-service help for orders.

It’s unrealistic to expect SMBs to build digital capabilities in-house, but the Mercato example demonstrates how SMBs can gain access to the resources they need to compete with big businesses without the manpower, the finances, or the technical expertise. If the resources aren’t available in-house like they are for big retailers, that doesn’t mean that SMBs will never be able to adapt to the online environment for order and fulfillment. 

In order to compete, local businesses can look to platform providers who have solutions that are out-of-the-box and are built to be customized while still delivering the functionality they need. By leveraging these companies, small businesses will have the capabilities in place to compete against the big brands as we enter 2022. 

Stephen Ehikian is Co-founder and CEO of Airkit.