small businesses

It’s no surprise that consumers are shopping online more than ever before and changing the retail industry as we know it. But the good news for smaller retailers is that this change is not all doom and gloom. In fact, now is the perfect time for small businesses, in particular, to grow their customer base.

To better understand what opportunities currently exist for small businesses, we recently asked consumers about their shopping preferences and what draws them to small businesses. Through this survey, it was clear a vast majority of consumers want to shop small—in fact, more than three-quarters said they want to support small businesses!

Simply put, it’s great news to see that the appetite to shop at small businesses is strong. However, the survey also shared some interesting warning signs for small retailers. For example, a majority of those shoppers also said they think they get more value and better prices at larger stores.

These results show we’ve reached an interesting point—on the bright side, consumers value the small business experience. On the flip side, these same shoppers are at risk of going to other retailers because of perception of value. To me, this means smaller retailers need to embrace what makes them unique, while also looking for new ways to create value for their customers to compete with big box retailers. And to meet this challenge, the smartest businesses are opting for a mix of both online and brick and mortar presences.

What’s the key to finding this balance? Here are four steps small business can take to achieve a blend of online and brick-and-mortar success and compete with the big guys.

1—Specialization & expertise: While shopping with big retailers can be convenient, more than one-third of shoppers we surveyed said they shop at smaller retailers because of their deep expertise about their products and services. Larger stores may be able to provide broad offerings, but small businesses can grow in specialized areas online and in store, and it’s clear, this matters to customers. Small businesses should flex their abilities to provide customers with in-depth knowledge—ultimately, helping the shopper feel confident in their purchasing choices and coming back again.

2—Human touch: The sheer size of larger retailers can also hinder the customer experience. Our survey found that a lack of personal interaction leaves something to be desired among customers, with 38% of them saying they feel these businesses lack a personal touch. Additionally, even when shopping online, many customers indicated they would still like the option to speak with a real human who can answer questions along the way. By having a brick-and-mortar location and ensuring quick responses to online inquires, small business owners can provide focused attention simply by being available in a way bigger stores may struggle with.

3—Payment choices: In the ever-expanding world of digital payment options, customers have more choices than ever in how they purchase goods—and they expect this of their retailers as well. Roughly 38% of customers responding to our recent survey said having a wide range of payment options is very important in their choice of where to shop. By taking a wide variety of payments online and in-store to mirror what larger retailers are offering, small businesses can eliminate this variable and ensure customers complete their purchases.

4—Professional website: Surveyed shoppers are twice as reluctant about shopping with smaller retailers due to possible website/tech difficulties. In many cases, a malfunctioning website can mean the difference between making or losing a sale. While larger retailers have dedicated web development departments, small businesses can utilize turnkey platforms to keep their e-commerce portal up-to-speed. Many of these services can mitigate the need for a small business owner to learn complex coding, while offering several efficiencies that can keep small businesses focused on their customers.

By following this advice, small businesses can provide customers with a seamless shopping experience—both online and in-store. Online shopping does not have to mean the death of brick-and-mortar—and vice-versa. Small businesses should embrace both to their advantage in today’s digitally-savvy, brand-loyal world to keep customers coming back time and time again.

Kushagra Shrivastava is a Managing Director at Yahoo Small Business, where he is responsible for product management and business functions, including marketing, sales, business development, design/UX, developers and communications.

Small businesses stock photo by ESB Professional/Shutterstock