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[13 comments]

Merchants Think Big As Consumers 'Shop Small'

November 20, 2012

In a RetailWire article last November, The Retail Doctor and BrainTrust member Bob Phibbs made a strong argument for merchants to put aside reservations about working with American Express and get behind the Small Business Saturday (SBS) initiative created in 2010 by the card company. In the final analysis, SBS 2011 appears to have been a success as more than 100 million people shopped at independent retailers.

This year, more retailers are asking consumers to "shop small" on Nov. 24 along with a wide range of advocacy groups (AARP, local Chambers of Commerce, retailer associations, etc.), public officials and corporate supporters (Ace Hardware, FTD, etc.). This increased focus along with this year's improved consumer confidence levels and signs of increased purchasing strength has small merchants hopeful that SBS 2012 will be even more successful than before.

Ultimately, however, what merchants do on Saturday will be of little consequence if they are unable to turn SBS shoppers into regular customers.

In an email to RetailWire, Connie Certusi, executive vice president and general manager of Sage Small Business Accounting Solutions, offered five recommendations for retailers looking to build on the SBS event. These include:

  1. Be prepared to shine. "Pay particular attention to your customer service. You get one shot at impressing visitors, so don't spare any effort or appropriate expense in achieving this goal."
  2. Provide incentives to return. Offer small gifts with purchases or discounts attached to return visits to stores.
  3. Get social (media). Use Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. to promote special offers and "encourage conversations about your business."
  4. Know your customers. Put systems in place to learn about and communicate with consumers. Use the information gained to better serve customer needs.
  5. Become more mobile. Make use of mobile payment tools using smartphones; utilize apps and mobile hardware to assist customers, track inventory, etc.

 

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:AXP] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

How would you quantify the Small Business Saturday opportunity for independent retailers? What recommendations do you have for turning SBS shoppers into regular customers?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which of the five recommendations in the article do you think offers the greatest prospects for turning Small Business Saturday shoppers into regular customers for independent retailers?

Comments:

I actually really like Connie's suggestions in the article. One could add more, and perhaps go into some more detail, however, if the retailers (of any size, by the way!) truly execute on these suggestions, I think the result would be profitable growth for these companies.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

As a consumer, I will look to participate in Small Business Saturday because I believe in the value of our smaller businesses. It's very hard for them to compete with the pricing and product selection offered by large, national retailers, so they must compete with customer service and unique product selection.

It's also a great idea for local merchants to get together to provide incentives as a group. There are a loyalty initiatives available now that provide incentives to entice consumers to shop among numerous local merchants.

Additionally, they should seek to get the local government involved to help promote the greater benefits to the community when people shop locally.

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Debbie Hauss, Editor-in-Chief, Retail TouchPoints

This is a great program and should be embraced by small retailers and shoppers alike. It would be great to see us reset our values and expectations as a result of this economic cycle. Supporting local small businesses is a great way to rekindle a sense of community.

As noted, it is important that retailers stay sharp and make certain they provide the finest customer experience they can possibly put forth. Having unique products and services that allow shoppers to be 'surprised and delighted' should be an important part of the mix. Finding and supporting local businesses and products can be a catalyst for bringing shoppers back all year long.

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Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC

There is merit in the five recommendations for small retailers, certainly. But only #1 -- attention to customer service -- is achievable in time for this year's Small Business Saturday. So staff up, stock up and step up.

Fair or not, small retailers are subject to expectations defined by the entire retail universe. That may include low prices and liberal return policies. It may be hard to match low-ball Black Friday deals on high visibility items, but a carefully curated selection can win the day when shoppers are struggling to score gifting success.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

The first recommendation is the winner; small businesses that have great merchandise and engaging employees will always win. And Small Business Saturday has been a big hit because customers take personal pride in participating.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

Small Business Saturday is an opportunity for short-term sales and long-term customers. Shoppers will soon forget the deals that got them to purchase, but will remember the personal service and community spirit.

There is no better time to provide proactive service that goes beyond "may I help you?" Beyond the human touch, there is the digital touch, for example...

1. Provide incentives to join email lists and Like your store on Facebook, particularly for buyers with smartphones.

2. Re-start your loyalty program with digital partners like Perka, FiveStars, LocalBonus, Belly or LevelUp. For more, see an earlier Braintrust Query on this subject.

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Dan Frechtling, Vice President, Global Product Management, hibu, PLC

If I were in the shoes of a local merchant/independent retailer, I would eagerly participate in the Amex promotion and leverage it through other existing promotional channels as well as social media.

I wrote last week in LoyaltyTruth.com about a local merchant coalition springing up in my residential area of South Florida. Coalition is a strong model with multiple benefits for the smaller merchant.

Amex is affording its brand name, advertising power and experience to prepare for Small Business Saturday and local merchants should jump on board. Considering the negative press that this year's Black Friday is generating, it seems like Small Merchant Saturday is positioned well to succeed.

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Bill Hanifin, Managing Director, Hanifin Loyalty LLC

No issue with any of the points made. Here's the thing though about all of these 'buy local/buy small' initiatives: No one should support any retailer that isn't competitive with the greater retail field, and that includes the biggest and best retailers. Retail is not a charitable endeavour, and the promotion of a socialistic approach to where one buys isn't justified.

Small retailers need to raise their game on every level to compete. Many do, and many many more need to step up.

Personally, I love to spend money in some of the great independent retail shops in my small town ... because they earn it with great service, great product selection, convenience and competitive pricing. However, there are too many independent merchants here, and everywhere, that are lagging behind. They don't need charity ... they need a kick in the butt.

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Kevin Graff, President, Graff Retail

I think this is a great opportunity for small businesses to differentiate themselves, especially by a heavy focus on customer service and as an alternative to the big box stores. Many folks who shop small businesses are not doing so to get the cheapest price possible, but rather believe that small businesses are a vital part of our communities.

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Brian Numainville, Principal, The Retail Feedback Group

The magic of a full service, large variety small business store was again revealed to me in my recent search for window dressings. After visiting no less than five very large retailers, I was sick of seeing the same things over and over again. What was even more agonizing was the amount of time it took to search for both the items and some help in the physical vastness of everything land. So I did what everyone else does when faced with this dilemma. I Googled for some help and got a list of names and, of course, directions.

The first two visits were to what were found to be nothing more than liquidator shops piled high with old stuff. Not to much time was spent at these locations even though the attendants kept shouting, "I can get you whatever you want at lower prices than on the NET." The third recommendation was in fact a very impressive specialty small business store loaded with fresh ideas and inventory. Knowledgeable assistance was waiting inside at the door to lend a hand. After some intense sifting and sorting we select the items we wanted. The sale was finalized with price and return guarantees in writing which were both fully explained at check out.

As we were shopping I was conversing with a store manager about finding them more by chance than by advertisement. She replied that this was a 20+ year old business which largely relied on word of mouth to advertise. She continued and mentioned that business is declining since the start of the depression and that management and ownership were at odds with going on line and creating a web site largely because of the costs involved.

I find it very sad that so many small businesses are going to go away for this same reason. And even more disheartening that very few business owners and executives spend the time to explore and learn the IT opportunities at hand. I guess this really is one of the big reasons why there are so very many more failures than winners today.

'gjarnoldjr'

This is a great opportunity for both the SB and the shopper. Everyone can win! The advantage small businesses have is that they can truly get to know their customers and this IMHO is the best way to loyalty. They need to be ready to make new friends out of everyone who walks through the door and find out what they like. Use social media, maybe even set up a text messaging with them. Give them your personal attention.

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

Great customer service, for great products, at great prices. Live by this as their mantra, and retailers will realize that their business can grow and thrive every day.

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Kai Clarke, President, Kowa Optimed, Inc.

I've enjoyed reading all the posts to this article. I agree with many of you that #1 above (pay attention to customer service) is the 'Holy Grail' for any small business who yearns for success despite the challenging economic condition we find ourselves in today. On a related note, I found a very interesting article on why small businesses have the 'customer experience advantage'. You can check out the article here.

Happy Thanksgiving and support your local small business on November 24th and every day thereafter!

Connie Certusi, EVP General Manager, Sage

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