How local retailers can replicate what makes them special…online

local retailers selling online

With full and partial lockdowns happening around the world again it really does seem like we’re experiencing what Thomas Fuller once described as “the darkest hour coming just before ]the dawn” – at least for retailers not called Amazon.

But while politicians and others beg us to shop local – many retailers are having a difficult time adapting to the new online reality.

A lot of this comes down to three reasons.

  • The misconception that moving online is going to cost a fortune (Spoiler Alert – it won’t)
  • A real fear of the technology.
  • Most retailers look at Amazon as a competitor they just can’t beat.

Let’s take a look at how local businesses can adapt quickly to the environment today and leverage these changes to come back stronger – when the current scourge fades into history.

Ecommerce strategies ranging from free to cheap

First, let’s talk about costs. When I first started my business, it wouldn’t be unusual to charge anywhere up to $10k for a website. Today that number can be as low as $1k or even free if you do it yourself using WordPress.

But just having a site with a phone number on it is not how you are going to thrive. So here are a few tools that will position your business to succeed in whatever business environment comes next.

Now obviously if you have money to burn, you can hire an agency and let them scope everything out for you. But I want to give you tools that range from free to cheap.

If you want to sell online, you’re going to need an online store. This may come as a surprise – but one of the most popular ecommerce platforms on the planet is absolutely free and shockingly easy to set up.

Going online sounds scary for a lot of small businesses. But the reality is that it’s not nearly as complicated or expensive as you may think. And if you get set up now, you will be in a better position going forward. Click To Tweet

WooCommerce works with WordPress. But even if your current site is not built on WordPress – don’t sweat it. It’s really simple to create a subdomain on your site and drop a WordPress/woocommerce site into it. If you can’t do it yourself – your web person should be able to set it up within an hour or two.

The second step is to upload all your products. Hopefully you already have some sort of an inventory system. If so – you’re in luck. Here is a link to a step by step guide to importing a spreadsheet with your inventory into your new e-commerce site.

Now let’s be clear – simply building out an online store will not help you compete against Amazon.

Your local competitive advantage is YOU

When people choose to shop local, it isn’t always about price or even convenience. They appreciate the face or personality of the business. When I was in my 20s I worked in a real used record store(RIP Dr.Disc London). We were local. And even though the HMV across the street was often less expensive, our customers enjoyed coming in and chatting with a staff made up of music lovers and audiophiles.

That still works today. If you want to retain your position as a local seller, you need to make sure that what made you special in the first place still works online. So how can you do this?

Well I said that I was going to cover things that were free to cheap. 

Many local businesses are currently restricted to “by appointment only” restrictions. So another free tool you should consider is Calendly.

Calendly is an online appointment system used by consultants. But it works just as well for retailers. Even the free version integrates with your Google Calendar. So you can set hours and even limit bookings to 15 minutes.

If you want even more you can connect Calendly to your free Zoom account to have “face to face” conversations with customers via computer. It really is as close as you’re going to get to having someone was right there in the store with you!

You can make recommendations, send links to products via chat and arrange for pickup. How’s that for easy? And so far your investment in e-commerce has cost you nothing.

Now that we’ve covered free, let’s talk about cheap. 

One of the best things to drop onto your site is a live chat option that will let you personally greet visitors – as you would if they just walked in through your front door.

There are literally dozens of options to choose from. But the service I use is Zendesk. It’s $35USD a month and works as your digital welcome to anyone who visits. If your store is closed now – you can monitor this yourself from your phone or even set triggers based on pages or visitor actions and have automated responses.

This is an important investment for your local business as it allows you to bring what is unique and appealing to walk-ins to your online store.

Now let’s go back to our three objections. 

Cost – If you decide to build everything yourself you can get away with a fixed cost of about $35 a month for the live chat. Obviously if you hire somebody like myself to do it for you, you have to pay for time. But even that isn’t going to cost you what it would have even 5 years ago. 

Technology – Between WordPress, Woocommerce, Calendly, Zoom and Zendesk, the implementation and learning curve is not difficult – even if you’re not a techie.

Fear of Amazon – Yes it’s easy to buy from Amazon. But have you ever tried to talk to a real person before you buy? The local advantage is you and your store’s personality. Even during a lockdown you can replicate some of this online and keep your customers coming back.

Going online sounds scary for a lot of small businesses. But the reality is that it’s not nearly as complicated or expensive as you may think. And if you get set up now, you will be in a better position going forward. No more slow snow days or rain days at the brick and mortar because people don’t want to leave their homes.

If you think you might need help with any of this, click on my Calendly link to see how quickly you can get up and running or open a chat!

Aidan Crawford

Aidan Crawford is president of Short Circuit Media. His main job is helping consultants, trainers and professional speakers get their marketing in order by creating and implementing strategies to help them reach their target audiences.

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