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Showrooming and the sales prevention department

Last time, we discussed the often forgotten reason for showrooming that happens after price shopping: convenience and time/fuel savings.

Remember Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief? If you’ve forgotten, they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

When applied to showrooming, it isn’t much different. Acceptance and the clarity that accompanies it are where the sales live. Even big retail is figuring it out.

Big retail embraces showrooming

Big retailers are starting to embrace showrooming because they’ve realized that reacting to and/or punishing it has proven ineffective. Learn from their mistakes, research and investments. Customers who showroom are likely to be better informed shoppers that you don’t want to lose. Their phone might help them decide that your store is the right place to buy.

Retailers that welcome the smartphone shopper in their stores with mobile applications and wi-fi access — rather than fearing showrooming — can be better positioned to accelerate their in-store sales – particularly with the holiday shopping season approaching.

Shoppers armed with smartphones are 14 percent more likely to make a purchase in the store than those who do not use a smartphone as part of their in-store journey. – Deloitte study for Saks Fifth Avenue

Most small businesses don’t have the resources to embrace showrooming with a smartphone app, or don’t think they do. If that’s the case, what do you do?

The simplest answer is to side with the customer. Do this by making the in-store experience so much better than anything anyone can provide online. That’s where it pays to visit an Apple store – where nothing is like retail as you typically see it.

The last Apple store I visited was in Portland. In an average-sized mall store, there were 28 employees on the sales floor – and all of them were with customers. I thought this was odd, so I tried another Apple store.

Same thing.  There were over 100 shoppers in the store. Almost all of them were in groups engaged in a conversation while they used an Apple device. Many of those conversations included an Apple staffer.

The sales prevention department

Compare that to the shopping experience in a typical consumer electronics store.

Try to test drive a Kindle. It’s locked in demo mode. You can’t pick it up and hold it because of the security device and short “don’t steal me” cable attached to it.

The display of the device is focused on theft prevention. Why is this a bad thing? Because theft prevention becomes sales prevention.

In an Apple store, nothing’s locked down. Sure, there are lots of people around to make sure you don’t walk out the door with that fancy MacBook – but the products are presented in a way that is clearly designed to encourage you to pick them up and try them out.

Unlike most stores that sell laptops and tablets, the devices aren’t cabled down, nor is there a password protected screensaver that prevents you from doing any real examination of the machine.

They make this happen because no matter what you do to the device, at the end of the day, they have systems in place to “wipe” them and reset them to out-of-the-box new condition, software-wise. This assures that the next day’s sales aren’t impacted by what someone might have done to a device. They can also reset them during the day if someone went really crazy.

It’s almost unfair to sell against a setup like that. Perhaps that’s why Apple’s retail sales per square foot are higher than anyone else’s – over $6000 per foot.

What’s different?

If you’ve ever visited an Apple store, you’ve never seen a dead machine, much less one with a message that tells you it needs attention from a technical person. You won’t see a locked screensaver.

Now think about other electronics retailers. Their sales floor machines are locked down that you can’t do anything and there’s almost always one that’s off in never-never land, waiting for some tech help.

Step back a few paces. This isn’t just about Apple, laptops or tablets. It’s about encouraging someone to engage with your product, thus *enabling* a purchase.

No matter what you sell, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Are your displays focused making it easy to fall in love with a product and buy it?
    OR
  • Are your displays focused on controlling the sales process and preventing theft?

Making it easier to buy is something every one of us can do. It’s price-based showrooming’s Kryptonite.

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Box stores Buy Local Competition Customer relationships Getting new customers Retail Small Business strategic planning Strategy Wal-Mart

The big showrooming lie: “It’s all about price.”

Last time, we talked about how showrooming is impacting the retailer, briefly discussed what causes it and covered how a home store’s effective website selling experience helped me save time by avoiding a trip to a store that couldn’t decide whether it could help me.

All the retailers say it’s about price and the research agrees.

Since everyone’s in agreement, let’s dive in.

What makes people showroom?

Piles of research make it hard to argue that showrooming is about price. A recent Harris poll indicated that 96 percent of showrooming was at least “somewhat about price”, while 82% said price was “very” or “extremely important”.

Ask anyone why they showroom and they will almost always say “price”. What reason do they have to lie? It must be about price.

So how should retailers react? Let’s look at a few real-world reactions.

What Best Buy did

Two years ago, showrooming was hammering Best Buy and their financial performance showed it. While it might not have been the sole cause, it’s tough to argue that it wasn’t a factor – particularly since their stores are reported as “most often showroomed”.

They first took an “us vs. the customer” stance. They blocked out shelf barcodes so customers couldn’t scan them. They required that manufacturers provide Best Buy specific product codes (SKUs). These SKUs appear in package and shelf barcodes. Since they’re unique to Best Buy, consumers couldn’t easily price check an item vs. prices at Amazon.com.

These strategies weren’t particularly effective, nor did they improve customer relations.

Since then, they’ve had success using these strategies:

  • Price matching vs. Amazon.com
  • Improving their website shopping experience
  • Offering more in-store promotions and discounts
  • Improving their on-floor knowledge about new products.

Half of these strategies rely on price. For now, Best Buy has the resources and buying power to price match Amazon and WalMart, but I think you’ll see this backfire in the long term.

Using discounting to make a sale breeds a relationship that’s easily broken. All it takes is someone else’s lower price to “steal” your customer.

I’m not saying price isn’t important, it’s simply a poor long-term relationship builder. The easiest customer to lose is a customer you gained solely by having the lowest price – so that better not be your only edge.

What WalMart did

Rather than fighting the price checking that built them, WalMart leverages having the customer in store – even when there to showroom.

They have an app that produces a list of items that are on sale that day, which is displayed on your phone when you enter the store. The app also lets you scan barcodes and keep track of what you’ve decided to buy.

They embraced their customers’ behavior to their advantage. While people might enter the store to showroom, they’re likely to buy something else they need if they’re made aware of on-sale items while in the store.

So why the “selling by price is bad” conversation for Best Buy and “selling by price is good” for WalMart? Simple. Their business models are much different. Unlike Best Buy, WalMart’s business model is designed around “Lowest price. Always.” and driven by world-class logistics.

The takeaway from WalMart’s showrooming strategy? Taking advantage of customer behavior you can’t change is much easier than fighting it.

What an Aussie retailer did

Earlier this year, a Consumerist story told of an Australian retailer who battled showrooming with a “Just Looking” fee.

Their strategy? Charge everyone who enters the store a five dollar “Just looking” fee and refund it when a purchase is made.

Is this really how you want to make a first impression with a prospect, much less engage a customer? I think not.

Consumers: “It’s about price, but it isn’t.”

So…what’s the big lie?

Remember the 82% of consumers who told Harris Polls that price was “very/extremely important” and the 96% who said it was “somewhat” important?

Despite those big numbers, 70% of the same respondents said that if they had a good shopping experience at an online store, they would be less likely to buy the item elsewhere, even if it was cheaper.

The same goes for local retail.

Showrooming is more complex than just price. A small retailer can address the problem in ways big retail can’t or won’t.

Next time, we’ll drill down on what’s really behind “It’s about price, but it isn’t”.

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Are you being showroomed?

Multi-Touch
Creative Commons License photo credit: DaveLawler

If you have a retail store, you’ve almost certainly had people showrooming in your store.

If you haven’t heard the term,”showrooming” can be summarized as “shopping at local stores to check out an item before buying online.”

Showrooming takes different forms and includes:

  • Price checking items on the internet while walking through a store. That bottle of foo-foo shampoo is $28.99 at the local grocery. Maybe it’s cheaper online, so people use the barcode to find a price at Amazon. A showroomer might even order right there in aisle five before they forget.
  • Going to a local store to check out a product you plan to buy online.

Electronics stores and retailers who sell complex, expensive items like cameras are most often showroomed.  Seems harmless until you consider that the local retailer is paying rent, salaries and other expenses to provide you with a free way to make sure that thing you want is really what you want – so you can leave their store and buy it at Amazon or B&H.

Internet-ready smartphones didn’t create showrooming. It’s just easier now. The same thing happened to retailers during the catalog mail order era.

Rather than complaining about it, let’s take a different tack.

One antidote to showrooming: A decent website

Showrooming isn’t just about checking out products and then going home to order them. The good kind happens too – meaning your website shows what you have in stock that’s ready to pick up today or when you can deliver it.

I’m in the process of moving to a new place. One of the unbridled joys of moving is packing your stuff. With the long weekend in front of me, I figured I’d knock out a bunch of packing. Silly me – even though I started the day with 40 boxes, I ran out Saturday evening.

Thus began the battle. U-Haul places are closed because of the long weekend. Most home stores and some box stores carry moving boxes, but it was after six, so that meant I was out of luck locally and would have to drive to town. I don’t “drive to town” for giggles, so I started surfing in hopes that someone had them in stock. If not, then my weekend plans will change (yes, a little of me was hoping I’d come up empty.)

Call it reverse showrooming, but I want to find what I need before I go chasing all over the valley for no reason.

The first box store site shows that their stock is online-order only unless I want to wait a few hours to find out what they *do* have – and then only after placing a “pick up and wait for a call/email/text” order – which felt more like betting on horses.

Some sites make searches like this easy.

For example, Home Depot has a filter on their website that eliminates anything that isn’t in stock at my “home store” (the store that I’ve told the site is closest to me). That works well, since I want immediate gratification – if you can call a shopping trip for boxes “gratification” (doubtful). Anyhow, if I can see what’s in stock, then I don’t have to take a chance at a 36 mile round trip for no reason. Finding up to date store inventory info on their site means they help me avoid wasting time and money – even at full price.

In Home Depot’s case, they also have tabs showing “All products”, “In-Store”, or “Online” – plus the filter I mentioned above.

I drove the 40 minutes and spent the 40 bucks because my local retailer was closed (which is OK) and because Home Depot’s site had enough information to allow me to make a solid decision.

Why do people showroom?

One reason is price, but for many products, the online merchant has done a poor job of selling the item. As a result, the prospect has to invest additional time to find the product and make sure it’s really what they want/need.

Why can’t your store site do that?

TIP: Big corporate stores often use automatically collected product data pulled from manufacturer data feeds (I’ve worked on these systems). Want some evidence? Look at a nationally-sold item at several large retail websites. Is the description identical? Is the picture?

You can do better. Next time, we’ll dig deeper on the causes of showrooming and discuss some solutions.

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Buy Local Community Education Employees Hiring Improvement Setting Expectations Small Business strategic planning Strategy

The forgotten 25% – will they be your customers?

The “Merging Method” of Agricultural Genetic Modification – (MMAGM)
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ian Sane

On average, 25% of US students drop out of high school.

I have little tolerance for “being average”, mostly because little changes have a way of propelling you well above average.

It isn’t that average is bad, but remember that average is like scoring 50th percentile on a test – half of the people are below average.

On any one test, maybe that’s not a big deal – unless the test is your life.

It’s “just how it is”

While the overall U.S. dropout rate is 25%, 50% of American Indian students drop out.

Regardless of lineage, some say that’s just how it is because “most dropouts are disconnected and unmotivated”, or they’re “intellectually under-performing” – meaning they’d never be able to graduate because they aren’t smart enough to complete the work required to graduate.

Whether those things are true or not, it doesn’t seem ideal for a community’s future to have 25% of students stumble out of school with little or no life, work or business skills any more than than it would to return to the days when two million kids aged seven to 12 worked 70 hour weeks in factories and coal mines. Never mind that it took Congress over 100 years to outlaw child labor, and even then, did so only to allow depression-era adults to get work.

Some of the 25% will struggle, suffer and become the people we look away from, some will manage thanks to skills gained from their family, and some will figure it out.

What can we do?

So what can a community do to improve the chances of a good outcome?

I wonder if some life skills (like budgeting and goal setting), some technical skills (like welding, heavy equipment operation or diesel repair) and/or some business skills (such how to plan and start a new business on a shoestring budget) might give these kids the foundation they need to become “a normal part of society” (you can decide what that means).

For this, we may need to know about the portion of the 25% who got past their slow start.

It’s likely that there’s research showing what improves the likelihood of helping these kids get started on the road to a successful life where they can find rewarding work, save some money for a rainy day, have a family if they wish and prepare themselves financially for old age. We may need to know the turning points that kept them out of prison, “soup kitchens” and shelters.

25 percent is acceptable

25% may seem pretty bad, yet as our day goes on, many of us manage to accept it. Either we think we can’t do anything about it, or we’re doing all we can just to keep our own stuff together.

Here’s how 25% feels in other parts of our lives:

  • Three eggs of every dozen would be rotten.
  • Three beers in every twelve pack are flat.
  • When you put a dollar into a change machine, you always get three quarters back.
  • One tire on your car is always flat.
  • Two pieces of every pizza have no sauce, cheese or toppings.
  • 7500 U.S. commercial flights crash every day.

If these things happened daily, there would be plenty of uproar, Congressional hearings and so on.

Yet one in four dropping out is what we seem to accept as a society, as long as our kid or adorable little grandchild isn’t dropping out – kind of like how 25% of Veterans living on the street is somehow OK (?), as long as it isn’t our family’s Veteran.

Look, I’m not saying big brother should swoop in and (s)mother these kids. What I’m saying is that we should recognize and attempt to improve how we address the real and societal costs that result from dropping out and as a result, how these kids deal with the life they’ve chosen, the life they appear to have chosen, and/or the hand they’ve been dealt.

The exception cases, like the 1.2% of dropouts who start multi-million dollar companies, shouldn’t be an escape clause. It should instead suggest how we identify patterns of success. What was different about those dropouts and could that affect more of them?

What does this have to do with business?

These people are potential customers, potential employees and/or their family members. They’re part of the community where you and your staff work, play and live. Isn’t that enough to make it matter?

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Wanted: Smoking hot hotel room in Kansas City Kansas

Google-Fiber-Rabbit

Of course, I mean a “smokin’ hot internet connection”.

Late last week, I was heading north through western Missouri, I planned to make an overnight stay in the Kansas City area.

Knowing full well (though with a little jealousy) that Kansas City, Kansas was the first winner of the Google Fiber lotto, I thought it would be nice to stay at a hotel in KC hotel that offered Google Fiber.

So I searched for “hotel kansas city kansas google fiber

While there are plenty of search hits about Google Fiber, most were stories about Google Fiber’s choice of KCK and deployment in the area. The only thing that even comes close to a hotel room in the search responses is a story about a “Home4Hackers“, an AirBnB property that offers Google Fiber.

Either there are no hotels in the Kansas City Kansas area that have Google Fiber (a distinct possibility), or the ones that do offer it need to work on their search engine positioning. A simple Google Local entry would have been first in my search, if it existed. Simple. Five minutes work.

What are people searching for when they look for you and don’t find you? Have you asked them when you meet or speak with them?

Finally – be sure you’ve taken care of your local listing on Google and Bing.

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Amazon Automation Box stores Business model Buy Local Community Competition Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Direct Marketing Internet marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Retail Small Business

The Amazon Prime Directive

Moving away from the light....and into the darkness of night
Creative Commons License photo credit: mendhak

What did you learn from – and change in your business – after Amazon launched Amazon Prime?

If you aren’t aware, Amazon Prime is a membership-based service that provides access to Amazon video-on-demand and free Kindle books from the Kindle lending library – but more importantly, it upgrades all purchases to from regular ground shipping to free two-day shipping.

The question remains – what did you take away for your business from the launch and subsequent success of Prime? Did it provoke you to change anything about your business and how you work with customers?

Even if you don’t do retail, there are lessons to be learned from what Amazon is doing.

The Fresh Prime of Bel-Air

Plenty has been written about the success of Prime and what it’s done for customer loyalty.

One quote from the Small Business Trends piece (linked above) that might get your attention – a comment from a Morningstar analyst who researched Prime:

What we found is that, generally speaking, last year Prime members spent about twice as much as non Prime members. (emphasis mine) They spent about $1,200 dollars compared to $600 for non Prime members. What’s also interesting is that the average person shopping online last year spent approximately $1,000. What that says to us it that Prime members generate more incremental revenue per than non Prime shoppers. They are doing most of their online shopping on Amazon as opposed to going to other sites. Prime members generate more income.

Recently, Amazon took the service a step further with the introduction in Los Angeles of Amazon PrimeFresh, which expands upon their Seattle-based test program.

What can you take away from this and implement at your business? Do it for them. Deliver it for them. Automate it for them, as appropriate. All with more personal touch than Amazon can afford to do *in your community* and *in your market* with *your customers*. Yes, automation *can* result in more personal touch.

The key is the emphasis on your community, your market, your customers. I’m not suggesting that you try to clone Amazon.

Behavioral shifts

There’s much more to this than automation allowing you to buy produce via your web browser. Customer behavior is central to what Amazon does.

When Amazon saw that Prime members behaved differently, then they could work differently with them. Simply by buying a membership in Prime, a buyer is telling Amazon “I am going to buy more, more often.”

If your customers could send you a signal in advance like that, how would you use it to improve what you do for them? How do you care for your best customers? How do you encourage new customers to take advantage of what you offer like your best customers do? How do you make buying friction-free and easy?

Now reverse that. If you look at customers who buy more and more often from your business, what are you doing to take care of them? What if you did those things for more of your customers – would it turn some of them into Prime-like customers?

Amazon, WalMart, You

We’ve talked repeatedly about “When Wal-Mart comes to town“. Amazon’s taken WalMart’s game and made it more convenient and logistically efficient.

Take from them what makes sense for your business and implement it a step at a time, even if your implementation looks completely different. The lesson is doing what matters for your customers, rather than blindly cloning what Amazon or WalMart do.

For example, let’s say you sell high quality, organic meats that your area’s chain grocer doesn’t carry.

Do your customers forget to stop by your place? When they’re at the grocery, do they grab something there because it’s in front of them? That convenience can cost you a $25 sale. How many can you afford to lose each week?

While you probably can’t afford to provide same-day delivery like Amazon does in Los Angeles, you can serve your neighborhood or small town in a similarly convenient way. Maybe you deliver on Thursday evenings so people have their weekend meat supply for campouts and family gatherings in advance of their weekend grocery shopping. A part-time employee could deliver their pre-paid orders.

You don’t have to cover the whole state 24 hours a day, just your market area (or part of it) as convenient.

Make quality, local buying easy. That’s the local Prime Directive.

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I know this sounds awful

Franjipani Maldives
Creative Commons License photo credit: Badruddeen

On a late afternoon errand run, I stopped into a local hardware store for a bag of potting soil.

I asked the woman at the counter if they had any left. She stared back at me as if I had asked her for a date (she was at least 25+ years younger), responding “Anything we have is on aisle 5”.

A few minutes later, I’m approaching the register.

As I take my place at the back of the line (now 2 people long), a car pulls into the parking lot as the guy in front of me asks about another possibly out-of-stock item. After answering him, she sighs and comments about another customer coming in 10 minutes before closing time.

Another employee approaches the front of the store and while ringing me up, she suggests to her peer, “Can you flip the signs to closed so they’ll stop coming in?”

Then she says “I know that sounds awful, but I have another job to go to.”

Yes, it does sound awful.

While I will think twice before burdening your employer with my business again,  I do appreciate your moxie at doing whatever it takes to make ends meet.

Sometimes that voice in your head should stay there.

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Tell your fish story, Mr. Limpet

Salmon

During a recent trip to Oregon, our journey took us to a dockside seafood restaurant in Newport.

As you can see from my photo, this restaurant offers fresh local seafood in addition to meals made with the local catch.

Take a close look at the sign used to describe this salmon.

We know that the fish was caught locally by a real person who had to reel it in, on fishing vessel (“F/V”) that employs local people. The sign tells us it wasn’t farmed, pitched into a freezer with 30,000 other fish, much less frozen and shipped in by truck or rail from 2,000 miles away.

The sign’s details drive home that this slab of salmon is fresher and thus (probably) better than salmon in the chain grocery down the street that has a sign saying “fresh salmon”. You know details about this particular fish’s path to the refrigerated case that you rarely know in an ordinary grocery store that doesn’t really specialize in seafood.

I’ll bet that if I had asked the lady behind the counter about Two Sisters, she could have told me about them.

Fresh and local is a particularly critical for fish and produce, but the effort to describe whatever you do in rich, honest detail is critical – particularly if you’re selling against commoditized products and services that tend to be compared solely by price. The goal isn’t to be flowery and cover up what you do with fancy wallpaper – it’s to help someone who cares understand why your stuff is what they really want.

Your why is just one more thing that makes you stand out because it resonates with what’s deeply important to discerning buyers.

What about what I do?

Emphasizing the upside of using local food should be an obvious win, but this sort of thing is no different for those who sell furniture, vacuum cleaners or whatever it is that you sell.

If I talk to your staff or visit your website, am I going to get why you sell what you sell, vs just selling any old thing? Do I get a feel for what’s important to YOU when you choose (or manufacture) a product, or deliver a service? Do I know what drove you to offer these services and why it might be more important to you than to me that you “fix” whatever issue my life, business or vehicle has?

I spent about 20 minutes listening to a vacuum guy compare different units for me the other day. I’m bad about listening to salespeople whether I plan to buy that day or not, because I want to hear and assess their pitch.

I got good info about the results, lifespan and repair expectations I could expect when choosing between different types / brands / quality levels of vacuums (all important stuff). I didn’t get much about why it was important to him that I make the right choice. Oddly enough, I got exactly that from someone about 30-40 years his junior – his son.

Enthuasiasts

You all know an enthusiast, and you probably are one about something. Enthusiasts will explain why you might value certain things or experiences as much as they do, either to bring you into the fold or just to explain why they care.

Coffee people will explain why a burr is superior to a grinder. People who are into furniture will ask if it is built using eight way hand tied springs. Skiers and snowboarders will wax on about tuning and wax.

Those things matter to enthusiasts who don’t want their beans scorched, crave holding an edge in the steep and deep, and want a repairable couch that will sit as nicely in 25 years as it does today. That’s why the link above explains the furniture manufacturer’s construction methods as well as WHY they use them.

The story behind what you do and how you do it is often as important as the products and services you offer.

It’s particularly critical if you’re in a high quality, high value market. If you can’t explain why you care and why your customer should, the next comparison that people will tend to make is price.

Unless you’re the box store, you’re likely to lose that comparison.

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Famous Last Words: “We can’t afford to market our business.”

Tyres!
Creative Commons License photo credit: mickyc82

This past weekend, I took one of my favorite drives of the year – that first drive after removing studded snow tires.

I enjoy the feel of a performance tire in a tight turn and that’s something studded tires just don’t offer. As I waited for my tires to be swapped and munched on Les Schwab’s complimentary popcorn, I looked forward to that first drive.

While I waited, a friend who works there mentioned a new restaurant in town – a place he’d first heard about the day before despite the fact that they’d been open for over six months. Neither of us could remember seeing any marketing from them. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t any, just that we hadn’t seen it.

Today, I remembered something they’d done. It was a good way to introduce what they do to those likely to visit their place, thanks to an affinity with another business.

One (apparent) marketing effort in six months is not ideal and is usually the result of a single, often fatal, mindset: “We can’t afford to market the business.” The reality is that you can’t afford not to.

If cash is tight, what can they do?

Frugal but effective

First, know that there is no magic pill, despite what so-called “gurus” will tell you while trying to sell you a shovel. “Shovel sellers” is a reference to those who made a fortune selling shovels during the California Gold Rush, yet never used a shovel to work their own claim and thus learn which (much less IF) shovels are best for the job.

Marketing is steady, don’t ever stop kind of work. If you don’t have a bunch of cash to invest, you’ll need to find inexpensive, effective ways to share what you do with those who would be interested.

Getting Local

Have you filled in your business info at Google Places? How about Bing for Business? What about local business directories?

There are plenty of free and paid directories out there. These can consume a lot of time and capital, so use them wisely. Try a few Google searches to see how their results place. Talk to someone who uses the directory (they’ll be listed). Ask if they get good customers from these listings and what techniques they’ve used successfully. The most effective local directories are likely to be those run by local people, so do your homework.

Registering is not marketing

Is your business registered on Trip Advisor, UrbanSpoon, FourSquare, Facebook, FoodSpotting, Twitter and Yelp?

Registering is only the first step. Each of these outposts require regular attention. Investing five or ten minutes per site every other day (worst case) will give you enough time to answer questions, comment on reviews, post a daily tip/menu item or recognize a customer, supplier, neighbor or event (remember: give first).

The business I’m speaking of is registered in several of these places, but appears to have done little to build and maintain an active presence on them – a critical step. Remember – these sites are about attracting and engaging people who self-identify themselves as “interested”.

Keep the mobile user in mind. Encourage reviews. Reward the mayor. Reward check-ins. You don’t have to throw a pile of money at them. A free cup of coffee or a dessert is more than enough. Make them customer of the day – and find a simple, inexpensive way to make that day special. So few businesses recognize mayors (much less check-ins) that you’re sure to stand out.

Doing The Legwork

Keep your customers informed without the hard sell. Stories evoke interest.

Start an opt-in email list and make it worth reading. Send postcards or a monthly flier/event calendar to locals so you stay on their radar – same as you would by email. Print up plain paper menus and drop them off at local retailers and motels.  Offer the front desk/register staff a sample tray now and then so they can make a legitimate recommendation. Listen to their feedback.

Follow Tourism Currents and similar rural / tourism / local marketing resources. They frequently talk about strategies and tactics other small rural businesses have used and offer valuable tips about connecting with locals and tourists.

None of this is free, but all of it is inexpensive.

If you don’t market your business, how will your situation improve?

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Why the tourist drove past your business

Changes2005vs2013Photo credit: AP

You’ve probably seen this AP image contrasting the crowds at St. Peter’s in Rome over the last eight years.

The first photo was taken by Luca Bruno in 2005 during preparations for the public viewing of Pope John Paul II’s body – almost two years before the iPhone was first announced.

The second photo was taken by Michael Sohn in March 2013 as the crowd waited for the first balcony appearance of a newly-elected Pope Francis I.

No matter how you feel about mobile devices, smartphones, the mobile browsing experience, the quality of smartphone photos, the always-connected lifestyle and how these things relate to your personal life, ignoring the business impact of the widespread adoption of these devices is done at your peril.

So what?

Seems like just yesterday that I did a series of speaking gigs with groups of local business owners about social media, getting found via local web search, the growth of mobile and the impact of these things on local businesses. Fact is, it’s been closer to 18 months since that series concluded.

To their credit, some have picked up on what we talked about and are interacting with their prospects and clients via social media. At least one local business that I frequent offers occasional coupons for subscribers to their text message (SMS) based opt-in list.

While most local business sites display acceptably on today’s tablets, the story is altogether different on a phone, where a smaller number have made efforts to improve the experience of a website visitor using a phone. Let’s refresh why it’s important to deal with this.

It’s not uncommon to hear “So what?” when this topic comes up in discussion. That’s not the right question.

First impressions

Again, you must set aside your personal likes/dislikes about these devices because it isn’t about you. It’s about your customers.

If these customers are tourists whose first impression – and purchase decision – is tied to the usability of your site on their phone, it’s worth considering whether your site is helping them (and you).

You might be thinking “Well, they have smartphones, but do they use them for that?” It’s a good question. I can tell you 25% of visitors to the Columbia Falls’ Chamber website are using mobile devices – a number that grows every month. I’ve been told churches see an even larger percentage of mobile users.

So what do you do?

A mobile website checklist

Let’s talk about mobile website basics:

  • Do you have a website that is actually usable on a phone?
  • Does it clearly describe what you do, when you are open, how to get there (using Google Maps, et al) and how to contact your business?
  • Restaurants, is your menu visible on the phone or does it appear on a phone as tiny print because it’s in a PDF intended for desktop users?

To start this process, claim your business on Google Places for Business and setup a Facebook Page (not a Facebook user account) for your business. Both of these will give you a basic summary presence on mobile devices that includes hours, contact info and location.

Compare these two mobile search results:

flathead beacon mobile search result dmbdgoogle

The one on the left (without a Google Places listing) is tougher to read on a phone and requires additional screen taps to get answers to the basic questions listed above.

The one on the right (with a Google Places listing) gives you everything you need to make the next choice. One tap to call, get directions or view their site.

Which of those do you want your prospects to see?

Why’d they drive by?

When your website makes it easy for mobile phone users to learn about your business, it helps them decide what to do, where and when to go, and how well your business fits their needs/wants.

So why did the tourist drive past your business?

Three reasons:

  • They didn’t know your business exists, or they didn’t know enough about your business
  • The info they found didn’t help them make a decision.
  • The info they found helped them make a decision to go elsewhere.

The last reason is acceptable. You shouldn’t expect everyone to be your customer, much less to stop in simply because your business is easy to learn about and find online.