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OPINION: Local Businesses Must Compete In Digital Age

by By John Newby “Building Main Street, not Wall Street” | May 10, 2022 at 11:07 a.m.

At the risk of repeating myself, let me share one of my favorite quotes. Gen. Eric Shinseki said to his troops, "If you don't like change, you will like irrelevance even less."

All great changes are preceded by chaos and upheaval; you must be willing to sacrifice where you currently are for the vision of where your dreams can take you. While we have experienced change over the past few years, I believe we are on the precipice of even greater and unprecedented change in the future. Will we manage that change on our terms or stand by and be acted upon?

Let's begin with a critical element. Local businesses must build/upgrade their websites without hesitation. Just as a downtown is the eyes into the heart and soul of a community, your website is the eyes into the heart and soul of your business and what it offers. It need not be expensive in today's world of technology but having a viable and working website is a critical component to your future business success.

Don't fall for the hype that everything is being done online. Two years ago, 90-plus percent of retail was transacted within the walls of retail establishments. While covid-19 changed that forever, as things are normalizing you can expect in-store shopping patterns will improve as we have come to find out that we humans seek interaction. That said, don't get comfortable; there is a significant shift toward digital purchases and that won't change. Be aware of these patterns and alter your strategies as needed to assure better store traffic and results.

Secondly, make sure consumers can find you, both physically and digitally. Make sure you are active on social media and everyone knows your operating hours. Does your listing show up on Google Maps? When people drive or walk by, are your windows and facade inviting? Just as your website is the eyes into the heart and soul of your business digitally, your window and storefront are that to your physical location as well.

How does your business show up in the digital search word world? Google a few of your key products or services and see where your business shows up or how far down the list you must scroll to find your shop. Make no mistake, while many are returning to brick-n-mortar to shop, they arrive there by Googling online about where to spend their money.

Thirdly, when you are online, consistently respond to interactions quickly. Just as we expect great customer service when in person, view this as your online customer service portal. Great service goes a long way. While we are discussing online, avoid stagnation; rotate your web photos often -- after all, pictures are worth a thousand words.

Fourth, in addition to over-the-top customer service, make sure the inside of the business is warm and inviting. Are shoppers able to easily find what they might be looking for? Make sure it is easy to get around the store. Cluttered aisles are one of the biggest detriments to pleasant shopping experiences. Always remember, uniqueness provides ambiance. The ambiance you create today determines who comes back tomorrow.

Fifth, always seek 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, raffles, surveys and games. With technology, this is now very simple. I'm always amazed how people provide email and cell phone numbers with a chance to win something. I am also amazed at how many businesses don't have a communication strategy. This should be at the top of any business plan. If you are a food establishment, always have a method to entice customers back. It's amazing how easy and effective a simple punch card, either printed or digital, can be at drawing diners to return repeatedly.

Always think of multiple visits. Few businesses can survive when customers only visit their location once. The most successful businesses always rely upon their best customers returning frequently. What is the lifetime value of a frequent customer? Every business should understand this number and the impact on the business. Frequent customers ultimately determine if a business has the sustainability needed to survive over the long haul.

Start with simple email marketing; it is the venue where the open and response rates are great. While it is getting less effective, utilize social media to tap into large communities of consumers residing in your target area. There is no simple solution or one size fits all. Being aggressive, 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 around the country. He is the founder of Truly-Local, dedicated to assisting communities, creating excitement and energy and combining synergies with local media to better their communities. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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