Before the internet, small specialty retail stores always wondered how they could compete with mail order catalogs. It was tough; mail order catalogs didn’t need a prime location, ample parking, store front, attractive displays and in many cases a sizeable staff to assist the customer. Dollar for dollar, how could a small specialty retailer compete?
The answer is Customer Service. In this age of automation, most people still enjoy talking to and interacting with a real, knowledgeable and understanding human being. Take the Tortoise & Hare Running & Fitness Center in Ann Arbor, for example. The store was founded in 1978 during the running boom. It has continued to thrive over the years because of its premise to provide customers with “the best service from employees who are confident and well-informed about the latest products.“
People like to be treated well. They want good value for their money. They like to have someone listen to them. They want advice from someone who knows what they are talking about. They want to deal with someone who has a friendly, positive attitude. If a retailer does all of this, chances are that a customer will come back again and again.
On the surface, the internet may appear to be a bigger adversary than mail order to a small specialty retailer like Tortoise & Hare. But in reality, this isn’t the case. The internet can be a partner.
A well designed website is the first step. Before they even set foot in your store, the first impression people get, might be from your website. It should convey the image and feel of the retail store itself. People should leave the website thinking, I want to check that place out. Is your site organized, easy to follow and up to date? If not, what is your store like? If the point of your site is to draw people into your store, are your location and hours easily accessible?
If you offer products for sale online, usability is the key. There are several factors that influence whether someone will purchase merchandise online or not. Is it complicated to place an order? Is it secure? What are the payment options? Is the product that I want available? How difficult is it to return, if it is not what I want?
The companies that manufacture the products carried by the small specialty retailer may also help out by listing the retailer on their site, or by providing a link to the retailer’s site.
In short, the web has become a crucial part of how we do business today. For the small retailer, here is your chance to bring that great customer service to a much larger audience.