There’s never been a tougher time to own a local business. Today, anyone can order the same goods they’d find in a brick and mortar store using their mobile phones from billion-dollar businesses with huge economies of scale. They can get those purchases delivered to their door the very next day, or even the same day, without ever leaving the sofa, let alone looking for a parking space or waiting in line.
It’s no wonder chains as ubiquitous as Toys R Us, Payless Shoes, and Borders have all closed stores or gone out of business in the last few years while the value of Amazon’s shares almost doubled between April 2017 and April 2019.
The rise and convenience of Internet shopping mean local firms need to look beyond the simple exchange of goods for money as the foundation of their businesses. Any outlet can do that. They need to offer something that Amazon and other online businesses can’t deliver—and that’s a personal service.
They need to stop being stores and start becoming neighborhood institutions.
It’s a role some stores have always played. The owners of local hardware stores never just sold hammers and bags of nails. They also talked to their customers about the projects they were working on or the repairs they were making. They pointed them to tools better suited for the job and gave them advice about avoiding mistakes. That advice was both personalized and localized.
The value of that personal advice is why a huge company like Apple has expanded its Today at Apple sessions. Those creative lessons help customers to get more out of their iPads and Macs, but they also turn Apple stores, already best known for their Genius Bars, into personal learning centers as well as retail outlets.
They give people a reason to come through the door instead of buying online.
That’s exactly what local businesses need to do. They must expand beyond retail sales to include events and experiences related to the products and services they sell.
- It’s always possible to buy clothes online, for example, but only a local clothing store will work with local designers and provide an outlet for students studying fashion at the community college.
- Paint supplies are easy to purchase but only a local art shop can also run a class and provide models for local artists.
- Anyone can work out alone but only a local fitness center can provide a personal coach and the camaraderie of working out with other people.
All those services allow the business to do more than exchange a good or supply a service. They build a relationship with a customer. They turn the customer into a friend. They make the customer feel welcome and they lead the customer to trust the business that they buy from.
The way for local businesses to compete with online businesses is to make use of their local advantages. Make customers feel welcome. Know their names and the problems that they want the store to solve. Give them an experience they just can’t get online.
When that happens people won’t just be willing to put down their phones and get off the sofa. They’ll want to visit you. They’ll want to do business with you.
And they’ll want to keep you in business.
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About Joel Comm
As an Internet pioneer, Joel has been creating profitable websites, software, products and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995. He has been at the frontlines of live video online since 2008 and has a deep expertise in using tools such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast a clearly defined message to a receptive audience or leveraging the power of webinar and meeting technologies.
Joel is a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books, including “The AdSense Code,” “Click Here to Order: Stories from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs,” “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays and Twitter Power 3.0.” He is Co-Host of The Bad Crypto Podcast one of the top crypto-related shows in the world and has spoken before thousands of people around the world and seeks to inspire, equip and entertain.
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