How can small businesses lure online shoppers?

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LAMAR, Mo. – Shopping is shopping, right? Well, it depends on your generation. For baby boomers, shopping typically means driving to a store to buy what they want. A 20- or 30-something might boot up a computer rather than start a car.

Kathy Macomber, business development specialist for University of Missouri Extension, says the way consumers spend their money has as much to do with age as with financial standing.

“There’s a huge divide between people who grew up with cell phones and computers and those who remember rotary dial phones and the advent of TV,” Macomber said.

Changes

Today’s young consumers use the Internet for everything from banking to price comparisons, and it’s changing the way they make their spending decisions. This can be both a challenge and an opportunity for small business.

How can small shops and services compete? Even if a small business does not have a website, shoppers will still measure it against online businesses, Macomber said.

Big retail outlets embrace the Web as another way to bring goods to consumers. A business that does not have the resources to create and maintain a website with all the bells and whistles may want to consider creating a blog, Macomber said.

“For example, it would be very normal for a restaurateur to do a blog on food highlighting the part of their business that makes them unique,” she said. “Providing useful information, like recipes or how to serve wine, is something people will see as valuable, and it will pique the interest of potential customers for the business.”

Exception

There is one caveat. “Blogs should not be used for solicitation or advertising, but to demonstrate your expertise,” Macomber said. “This can subtly communicate information about your business.”

Blogs can also provide an owner with customer feedback. According to Nielsen Online, access to feedback and ratings is one of the top 10 reasons given for shopping online.

Macomber says small businesses should take advantage of this. Positive feedback can tell vendors what they’re doing right, and negative feedback can alert them to what needs to be corrected. This information can help a small business increase its value to consumers by tailoring the business to the needs of customers.

“It’s something the big retailers simply can’t do,” Macomber said. “You can offer personal service. Greeting customers by name or something as simple as keeping a card file on each customer so you can personalize the visit,” she said.

“The little touches can help the small retailer make the shopping experience better for their customers.”

Example

There’s an oft-told story in marketing about a locally owned barbershop that faced losing customers when a big chain salon moved in across the street advertising $6 haircuts. Rather than give up in the face of pricing they could not match, they marketed to their strength by putting up a banner that read, “We fix $6 haircuts.”

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