Traditionally, small- to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) have differentiated themselves from large national chains and big-box stores by offering personalized products and services. While this is a sound strategy for single brick-and-mortar locations, the challenge for SMBs gets more complicated when expanding to multiple locations and e-commerce, and when trying to manage both digital and physical customer engagement channels.
For SMBs, it is essential to leverage the convenience, efficiency and insights afforded by technology to keep pace with larger competitors. This is particularly important with the holiday season around the corner, offering an optimal window of time for businesses to engage with new and existing customers. With that in mind, here are four strategies for leveraging digital tools to create more personal and convenient customer experiences, while streamlining overall business operations at scale.
It’s the omnichannel era
Selling across multiple channels has become foundational for small businesses looking to take their operations to the next level. By expanding beyond brick-and-mortar sales, any retail business has the opportunity to reach more customers, while also making it easier for their customers to shop on their own terms – when they want, where they want, and how they want.
Breaking into e-commerce can be intimidating for business owners, but it’s proven that a multifaceted storefront provides opportunities to sell more. According to Clover data, when SMBs expand into e-commerce, the average daily transaction amount increases by 50%. Offering the digital access that customers expect allows SMBs to compete with larger national chains while still catering to customers who prefer the personalized experience of shopping at a small business.
One example is Out the Dough, a family-run cookie dough company based in Concord, California. After being featured on Good Morning America, demand for their product exploded. Launching online ordering shortly thereafter allowed the business to quickly process the influx of orders, enabled customers to place curbside pickup orders more conveniently, and increased overall revenue by 15%.
A secret to staying ahead? Streamlined inventory management
Leveraging technology that streamlines inventory management across multiple locations provides vital, real-time insight into how goods are moving through the business, especially for those SMBs with limited staff.
Having a single integrated platform to manage inventory, as well as sales and promotions, allows business owners to track merchandise across categories, plan for strategic ordering throughout the year, learn ideal dates for ordering certain items that sell at a specific time of year, and gain insights into inventory expenses. A unified view of the entire business, including both online and in-store activity, helps the store owner to reduce the time spent managing business tasks and increase the time spent engaging with customers.
Take Canton Palace Theatre, an Ohio-based, historic events venue hosting over hundreds of events throughout the year. After adopting a digital POS system to bring its business into the 21st century and keep pace with the demand of its more popular events, their team was able to save 275 hours of manual work, per worker per year, from digitizing its inventory management processes alone.
Digital, flexible payment options are now table stakes
Customers want flexibility in their lives, and the retail sector is listening. It is incumbent upon SMBs to ensure they accept multiple forms of payment to accommodate their customers’ preferences. For instance, a customer can now pay via PayPal simply by scanning a QR code during checkout. Another form of payment already being used by more than 20% of Americans is Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL), which enables customers to finance their purchases in regular short-term installments. Point-of-sale and business management platforms can simplify a small business owner’s ability to enable these flexible payment options online and in-store for their retail customers.
Accepting multiple forms of payment, whether online, in store, through a mobile device or over the phone, provides choice and convenience to the customer, which helps create a great customer experience. When looking for technology to handle payments at a retail location, businesses should also focus on solutions that can support contactless payments, allow for line busting when the physical store gets busy, and can scale with a business as it grows over time.
Leverage customer insights to maximize business success
Leveraging data is essential for SMBs to understand how their customers are engaging with products and allows them the opportunity to optimize their offerings accordingly. By using data-driven insights, SMBs can create targeted promotions mapping to their customer preferences or even introduce new inventory to their business at the most opportune time.
Take, for example, the selling period between mid-July and early September. During this time, families with children prepare for the upcoming school year and likely shop for school supplies. In fact, the NRF predicted that back-to-class shopping was set to hit an all-time high of $41.5 billion this year. This makes this particular window of time a key moment for retailers selling this range of products, and it would be wise of them to leverage insights around the types of items their customers typically purchase during this time. Applying this deep understanding of customer preferences and past purchases during the holiday season will allow SMBs to market their business to potential customers with maximum efficacy.
Embracing the great equalizer
SMBs are in an enviable position in today’s retail market: modern technology can be tailored to the unique needs of a small retailer and help level the playing field. Incorporating customizable and scalable technology better positions SMBs to compete with larger competitors as they can more easily maintain personalized customer experiences, while simplifying the complexities of growing a small business.
Jessica Gatti is the Head of Clover Marketing, a market-leading point-of-sale and business management platform enabling small businesses to maximize their operating efficiencies and grow.