It’s common to hear that the digital age is killing brick and mortar retail. The debate continues regarding whether this statement is true or not, but it is certain that e-commerce is forcing traditional retailers to adapt. Internet-connected devices make shopping and communication easier than ever, but they also remove something people crave: face-to-face interaction. By leveraging what the mobile age cannot provide and accommodating for what it demands, Main Street still has a chance to thrive.
The power of the internet
Small-scale retailers may be resistant to join the e-commerce space, but the Internet opens many possibilities for success—even among corporations like Amazon and eBay. According to The Globe and Mail:
“Through more targeted marketing, growth hacking, and real-time analytics, companies are able to learn more about their customers to build more meaningful connections that foster brand loyalty and retention. So having a digital presence means more than just maintaining your website, it’s about internet optimization and customer engagement strategies driven by data. To succeed in the digital economy of the 21st century, businesses must understand how and why they need to utilize all the tools available online to capture online traffic and grow their business.”
Why is having an online presence so essential? As Dr. Ron Cook says on Main Street America, without one, small businesses do not exist. People can still stumble upon their buildings when window-shopping, of course, but customers that are hoping to place an online order are out of luck. Being online is useful for people who do want to make in-person purchases anyway because over one billion consumers use their mobile devices to find local store locations through Google Maps.
The Internet allows small retailers to more efficiently track who is searching information about them and who is purchasing from them, especially if they offer e-commerce options. Stone Temple notes that in 2017, mobile traffic accounted for 63 percent of internet searches, compared to 57 percent from 2016 (compared to desktop queries). When people intend to shop, it’s much easier to pull out their smartphones and quickly search for store details—including reviews, which sometimes people even search for while standing in front of a physical product.
What Main Street can do
Besides becoming mobile-friendly, what else can brick and mortar retailers do to stay relevant, especially if they do not plan to participate in the e-commerce space? One element that customers enjoy is electronic forms of payment. When people purchase items online, the most common payment options include entering credit card information or using a gift card. Credit cards are useful for online and in-store purchases, but they often charge transaction fees. Small businesses need to do something that not even online retailers: offer even more methods of payment, like wire transfers or eChecks (such as those from Deluxe). Many people are hesitant to give their credit card information online, but when they have multiple options at their disposal that only require having an email address and a bank account, they will turn to the businesses that make them comfortable when paying for products. Better yet, many of these payment methods are mobile-friendly, so people can still purchase products in-store from their devices.
What about hopeful retailers who have not quite started their businesses yet? They should still take advantage of the internet in whatever ways they can, but when it comes to getting off the ground in the digital age, a well-sourced loan never hurts. When new-to-the-block small businesses go through Currency Capital, they submit basic information (such as the amount of funding, credit history, etc.), and then the company runs proposals through third-party checks to evaluate creditworthiness. Currency Capital’s vice president, Jered Takeuchi, says that hopeful borrowers receive approvals within minutes 60 to 70 percent of the time. I applicants do not qualify, at least they are not kept waiting for an answer.
Here’s some good news: 92 percent of retail sales still take place inside brick and mortar stores. CNBC says that despite Amazon being a massive presence in the retail space, “Many small retailers have been a part of their communities for generations and are a key pillar of the local economy. People have a desire to support businesses in their own communities,” and small businesses have an opportunity to interact with them on more personal levels. By using social media and targeted marketing, retailers can emphasize their home-grown narrative to retain customer loyalty.
The mobile age does not mean that main street is going to succumb to e-commerce. There are steps small retailers can take to stay relevant, and they will always offer a more personal touch than companies like Amazon and eBay can.