If you own a traditional “brick and mortar” business (cafe, retail store, etc.), it’s easy to assume a lot of the business tips you read online simply don’t apply to you. These days, there are many reputable people offering advice on how to improve or expand your business, but most of them seem to focus on the online side of things, and not what can be done on the ground.
As a business owner, you have two options:
- You can continue neglecting proper and valuable advice assuming it doesn’t apply to your business, or
- Advance your business by bridging the gap between your physical and online businesses.
One common reaction to branching out into the online world is, “But my business has no way of shipping our products efficiently, so there’s no need for my business to go online!”
To that I say, “Who says you need to actually sell something online in order to receive huge benefits from having an online presence?”
Ahh, NOW the wheels are turning, eh?
How to Get Online
I know going digital, or creating an online presence, can be scary for most business owners. Often there is a divide between the owners of brick and mortar businesses and owners of online businesses. Many people who do business online don’t want to get involved in a physical business and owners of physical businesses can often be technology averse.
The good news is it doesn’t take a great amount of technical knowledge to do a whole lot of good for your business online. Better yet, one of your college-aged employees likely has all the necessary skills to handle most online tasks, if you don’t feel comfortable handling them yourself.
This wouldn’t be a very helpful article though, unless I gave you some actionable tactics on how you can use the internet to gain more customers and foot traffic for your physical business. Here are my top 5 tactics:
1. Get them engaged in social media
Getting the people who are already visiting your place of business to start interacting with you on social media is a great way to maintain repeat business. Your business probably already has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts (if it doesn’t, make that priority number one!), so start there.
Your real fans and tech savvy customers will know how to connect with you on these platforms on their own, but don’t just assume everyone is so inclined to do so. Having some signage posted at the checkout, customer service and restroom areas (yes, restrooms!) is a great way to encourage and remind people to connect with you.
For the checkout area, you might even experiment with something along the lines of: “Follow us on Facebook/Twitter and receive 10% off today’s purchase.” Remember, the lifetime value of a social media follower can be much higher than your initial investment (in this case, a discount) to acquire them as a follower.
2. Web only discounts and offers
If there is one thing that gets people excited about a brand and its products, it’s getting special and exclusive deals that aren’t available to just everyone.
By creating special offers and promos that are only available through social media or an email newsletter, you can make your online community of fans feel even more connected to your brand.
While this doesn’t mean you need to make all your sales and promos exclusive to your online community, make an effort to remember to reward them fairly frequently for having an active enough interest in your company to follow your online presence.
3. Show off the goods online, even if you don’t want to ship them
If you do want to ship goods, then there’s no reason for you not to have a streamlined process for people to order online. That is a much deeper topic, however, and one best saved for another day.
For now, let’s assume you don’t want to fulfill orders over the internet. What can you do to bridge the gap between your physical store and your website? Lots!
Many larger businesses offer an option for people to order online, but pick up their items in store. Lots of people like the convenience of online shopping but don’t like to wait for shipping, so this is the best of both worlds. Allow them to place their order online, with instructions immediately after payment about where and when they can pick up their purchase. You might just see sales go through the roof.
If this sounds more complicated than you can handle, or you sell perishable items like food, don’t think this can’t apply to you. Even if you don’t want to give people the option to order online, at least give them the opportunity to see what you have to offer for when they do make it into your location. Make sure to have a section where you showcase the products you offer or the items on your menu so people can make an educated decision to visit your place of business.
Potential customers who know that you have what they’re looking for will be more likely to pay you a visit.
4. Make your online experience mobile-friendly
Do you remember the last time you pulled out your phone to check out a business or store you’re headed toward, but got turned off by the way the website showed up on your phone?
These days, a huge percentage of your traffic (sometimes more than half, depending on your industry!) is likely coming from mobile users. Your website needs to accommodate those users. In their minds, if your website can’t help them, then your physical location won’t be able to as well.
5. Keep your social media updates varied enough to keep everyone engaged
Nobody likes following a company that’s so self-focused that all their updates feel like a business diary. At the same time, everyone likes getting discounts, but even those can get old and mean next to nothing when it is all your company shares.
To avoid these problems, make sure your social media updates have a little something for everyone. For example, if you’ve just read an article that would be relevant and interesting to people who follow your brand, share it with a short one-two sentence intro about your opinion of the article.
The point is to make sure your updates aren’t so boring and similar that people can set their watches by your updates. Because when this happens, people tune out and miss out on any important specials you might have coming down the pike.
With some planning (and a bit of technical knowledge) you can leverage the power of the Internet to get feet through your store’s threshold. Remember, it’s not just about how many people come through the door—it’s how many return.