The COVID-19 pandemic forced many small business owners to move online in order to keep up during the shut down. However, some small business owners have avoided making real strides in developing an online presence because of uncertainty about how to design a website or use social media in a meaningful way for your business.
But, you can't afford to put off going online any longer!
In this article we'll show you why your retail business needs to be online and we'll back it with statistics about ways online retailers can improve the bottom line. What's important to understand is that good business — from marketing to sales to customer service — is based on building a relationship with your customers and partners. This can look different for every business, of course. The fact remains that not having an online presence is no longer an option in the 21st century.
What Does "Online Presence" Mean, Exactly?
When you think about this question try to imagine yourself in your customer's shoes. Where do they spend their time online? What might they need from you, and where will they want to find you across different channels? What kind of content are they going to be looking for?
Having an online presence means more than just having a website, though for retailers an easily navigated website is an absolute must. It's as if you are standing on your sales floor surrounded by returning and potential customers. Are you going to stand against the wall, silent and passive? Technically, you could, but that wouldn't be the best option for your business.
How you position yourself online is just as important as choosing a physical retail location and responding to your customers in person. You should be easy to discover online. Your site should share information answering frequently asked questions and your social media should allow you to listen to your customers, making it easy for them to purchase online. Every aspect of your online presence should be oriented toward being active in accordance to your overall business, marketing, and sales strategies.
Your Website Is Your First Line of Interaction
Your website is an asset and, quite frankly, you'd be remiss not to take advantage of it. Site platforms such as WordPress, SquareSpace, and Shopify have made designing a website easier than ever. These platforms offer a host of tools and apps to make various functions easier to manage.
Online spending for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. rose to a new record in 2022, hitting nearly $19 billion according to Adobe Analytics. The Small Business Administration encourages business to "Buy into the momentum of e-commerce." They say that the "shift to digital shopping has been a long time coming. From 2019 to 2020 alone, e-commerce saw a 35% year-over-year increase, and that figure is only expected to grow. To account for this trend, optimize your business’s e-commerce presence in 2022 and beyond. These days, that starts with making your website mobile-friendly and your social media responsive to your customers needs.
Ecommerce doesn't have to be, and in fact shouldn't be. Why? Well, since the pandemic started customer convenience includes so many online options such as "order online and pick up in store." Customers also like to try on items in the store and then purchase them online.
Online shopping has brought the customer experience to a different level. Adapt how your business engages customers and merge all channels (on some level at least) to funnel consumers to where you need them most — your bottom line.
Mobile has become key to the shopping process. More than 200 million retailers have invested in mobile in recent years, which more than likely means that your competition is already online or will be soon. Why the focus on the mobile web? About four in five consumers use their smartphones to find deals, get directions, and make purchases. Furthermore, 56% of consumers did research for products at home from their mobile device.
And, of course, Google's requires all websites to be mobile friendly. If your site isn't mobile friendly it will likely be down-ranked or not even listed in search results. It's worth noting that Google also prefers "responsive" designs, as they're easier to index and provide a uniform experience across multiple devices. Not sure if your site is responsive? Check here.
Mobile search is the online gateway to your store and is important for boosting foot traffic. Google's puts an emphasis on local search. Considering the number of people utilizing mobile and wearable devices, mobile searches are integrating geographical location data to offer more meaningful results. It means sophisticated, personalized results based on proximity, even to a hyper-specific level. If your website isn't mobile friendly, it isn't going to show up at the top of a search page as being nearby. (Tip: Set up a Google Business profile. Whether you have a webpage or not, it will index your business and its locations for searches and add you to Google Maps, not to mention offer a host of other benefits.)
Social Media Is Imperative
Social media for small businesses can no longer be considered optional. Even with the current challenges facing Twitter and other platforms, social media is a powerful tool that can drive customers to your website.
Retail businesses should note that social media is also evolving toward social buying. Facebook is already lets you set up a storefront. Some stores have even taken the data from social media and used it in creative new ways.
Before we move on to what social media can offer you, it's worth taking a moment to discuss the potential that various platforms can offer your business. Some are basic, while others need a more defined sense of purpose. Not every platform will work for every business, and there's always new platforms and innovations just around the corner.
While Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are still the basic go-to options, you should also consider platforms like Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube and LinkedIn. They each offer business specific options with analytics tools and tips, and each can show you information about different customer segments that can expand your reach. They offer different kinds of sponsored content, as well, so it can definitely be an extension of your marketing. They'll give you room to be creative, and, as we'll discuss in a moment, to build your brand.
When it comes to determining which platform to use you need to ask yourself, "what platforms to my current and potential customers frequent?" Go where they are and you will find results!
Engagement & Feedback
A wealth of information that can be gleaned from social media and the way your customers engage with your business through it. Social media comments, likes, and shares (when used correctly) allow you to learn more about who your customers are, improve your segmentation data for marketing and sales, and improve customer service. Social media offers a completely different level of interaction that can engender real relationships which not only generate leads, but also conversions. To view social media as merely a method for marketing is to undercut your own efforts.
Your social media can give you the opportunity to listen to your customers in a way that is more than merely reading their comments on your Facebook page. Social media can be utilized to answer frequently asked questions, and social media is also good for opening new doors for native advertising and real-time targeting.
Building Your Brand
The key to building your brand is building a relationship with your customer, and there are few better ways to do that in the 21st century than social media. Of course, it requires you to approach using your social presence in a strategic way. Social media gives your business a face and a personality, doing away with the unapproachable, monolithic ideas of business in the past. It also offers unprecedented methods of networking with others, building a position of authority, and establishing your brand as a thought leader in your industry.
As technology and consumers continue to evolve, your online presence becomes unavoidable and more integrated with shoppers’ buying process. How your business can benefit from having an online presence should be a little more clear now. It's time to maximize your online presence today.