How local retail is changing – and how to keep up

Being a retailer is hard. You don’t need us to tell you that.

It’s the mix of high costs, fickle customers, and stiff competition – from local companies and ecommerce giants alike. Amazon and big-box retailers are always a threat, waiting in the wings to swoop in and steal your business.

It’s stressful – and sometimes in quiet periods it can feel impossible.

And that’s before you consider the retail apocalypse that shuttered branches of companies like Sears and Macy’s.

1,100 retail store closures were announced in a single day in March. It’s easy to read that stat and to consider shutting up shop entirely – but smart tools and strategies are giving retailers everything they need to fight back. Here’s how.

1. Know why your customers choose you – and be really good at it

Traditionally, customers choose local stores for any combination of seven reasons: value and price; convenience; their products and availability; ease; customer service/consultation; and the experience.

Maybe your customers appreciate the knowledge your employees have. Maybe they appreciate your product catalogue. It could even be that they like being able to physically touch/see a product before they make a purchase.

Whatever it is, optimize it. For example, Lowe’s and Home Depot are known for offering invaluable advice to customers. Likewise, Nordstrom offers services in style advice and personal shopping that keeps customers coming back.

It could be a case that you diversify your product range or that you provide specialized training for your staff. Whatever it is, identify your strength and play to it. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your customers in person or create a survey to send out to your email list or customers.

retail store marketing

2. Use the internet to your advantage

It isn’t enough to presume that customers know who you are – no matter how decorated or long-standing your store is. More and more, consumers are making online searches before ever setting foot in a store – and if they can’t find you or your products, they’re going to go somewhere else, even if you’re only a block away and you have exactly what they’re looking for.

Digital marketing is when you use the internet to promote your store. Depending on your budget, it can take any number of forms: for example, investing in a website, using social media to share your products, optimizing to get found online as a local retailer, or sending emails to your customers about promotions.

The unfortunate truth is that if your local retail store isn’t showing up online, you’re going to be losing out on customers – which can feel like a nightmare when many digital marketing tactics can seem over-priced to smaller stores.

retail technology

3. Be prepared to adapt

If you’re a retailer with a long history, it can be easy to fall into the trap of doing what’s always worked. If it seems to be going well, why change it, right?

Well, you could be missing out on a slew of opportunities as the retail industry continues to change and evolve. Instead, emphasize identifying changes in your industry and how consumers work. Then use those insights to make necessary changes to your store.

Ultimately, you need to think about how you’re going to grow your store – which means looking at ways to improve your business. Be prepared to test new strategies, products, tools, or marketing – or face being left behind.

market retail store

4. Consider forming smart partnerships with other local retailers

Other businesses or communities could be a useful tool for your store. Local retail can feel solitary – especially in a saturated market, but that doesn’t mean that you have to go it alone.

Referral programs or loyalty schemes could be a useful asset to your business. It could be as simple as partnering with local companies and referring customers for certain items or taking a cut of sales that you refer.

Effective partnerships are a two-way street so be clear about how both parties will benefit.

5. Create a welcoming environment

What will bring a customer into your store? That’s the big question every retailer needs to answer. Is it an appealing storefront? Online advertising? Welcoming staff with unmatched knowledge of your industry and products?

The responsibility is on you to create an environment that pulls customers in – and brings them back. Customers need to feel relaxed in an open space. Products should be laid out in a manner that makes sense for your customers, while all signage should be up-to-date.

Let in plenty of natural light; greet customers when they come in-store; utilize any curb space with useful amenities like bike racks or signage; emphasize customer loyalty; even consider hosting relevant events, classes or workshops.

Customers have more choice than ever for making a purchase so you need to make sure that they feel valued.

6. Invest in smart tools and strategies

The right analytic tools, marketing packages, or smart devices could make all the difference to your store, absolutely, but make sure it’ll be worth it.

Do your research, look for case studies and testimonials, and talk to other retailers using particular services or products to determine the differentiator for your store.

7. Increase foot traffic

Everything you do as a retailer – especially in local retail – needs to increase foot traffic for the right people to your store. Ultimately, more foot traffic should mean more sales, presuming you’ve done everything else on this list.

Sometimes, it really is as simple as finding and solving a problem.

Imagine your customer is trying to buy something specific, but they don’t know where it’s sold. If they type the product name into Google, they’ll probably find a dozen ecommerce websites selling it.

It seems crazy that you could search the entire internet, but you still might now know if what you wanted was in the store around the corner.

This is the problem that Pointy solves: to help local stores pick up footfall, by putting your products online and helping people to find them.

The solution to being found online that’s changing local retail

Pointy co-founder, Mark Cummins, left Google to co-found Pointy with the intention of making local retail work better with the internet, as so many local stores are losing out to ecommerce and big-box retailers.

His background as a Google engineer was particularly useful in designing a device called the Pointy box that plugs into a store’s barcode scanner. The box picks up product UPC codes and uses that to populate a website of the products sold in the store.

Here’s an example of what it looks like.

Once you connect the Pointy box to your POS, it finds all the product names and images, and automatically lists all your store inventory online.

These pages are optimized for search engines, so that when people nearby search for products you stock, they can now see that it’s available in your local retail store, not just on some big ecommerce site like Amazon.

At Pointy, we’ve helped stores appear in Google search results millions of times already for our 10,000+ local retailers, and we’re only getting started.

Pointy’s mission is to help every local store pick up more footfall. We know local stores don’t have big budgets, so we’ve ensured that Pointy can do a lot, without breaking the budget.

Do you want to increase your footfall and sales?

If you’re a retailer and you’d like to find out more about Pointy, you can click here. If you’d like to sign-up to get a Pointy box of your own, click the image below.

18 Comments
  • Jesse Donnelly
    5:45 PM, August 2017

    I’m not a retailer but is there away to spread the word and make some $ for my efforts on line
    Jesse Donnelly in Valencia Ca on FB

  • TrulyUnruhly / OneFish, Two Fish
    6:50 AM, August 2017

    I haven’t looked into your cost for this, but as a small shop owner, and older than a millennial, I have to say one thing; do we really need to be encouraging this level of laziness? Part of the joy of shopping is in the physical act of walking into a new environment; meeting new people (that would be me and my family in this case, who operate the shop), and perhaps learning more about the artists that we represent than one would be able to learn from a bar code scan. Plus… hello, phones?? We answer phone calls and emails about our artists and products. This is one of the many services we lowly humble humans can still provide the world.

    • Caroline Brady
      9:22 AM, August 2017

      Hi thanks for your comment and apologies for the delay in responding! Just to clarify, the aim of Pointy is to direct people doing online searches into your physical store. Pointy is not an e-commerce website, we do not enable retailers to sell their products online. When the retailer scans a product, we receive the barcode number and find an image and description to match it. We display it on your Pointy Page and optimize it so that it will rankly highly in local Google searches. When someone searches for a product that you stock on Google they’ll be directed to your Pointy Page where they can find all of your store details including opening hours, directions to the store and contact details. With Pointy we aim to leverage online searches in a way that gets more people into your brick & mortar store where you can build a relationship with them. Hope this makes sense – please get in touch if you’d like any additional info!

    • Ashley
      5:50 AM, October 2017

      I don’t believe this is rooted in laziness. If sometime is searching for a specific item, they probably don’t want to go to the 6 possible stores in a town or contact 6 different stores to find out if they happen to stock said item. This system will help that person find your store because your sell that item. Otherwise, they might just order it online because that’s much easier than hunting an item down through 6 stores. I certainly don’t have time to do that!

    • Eleanor
      4:45 PM, January 2018

      No you are missing the point. As a senior who likes to go to physical store and see the product i would use this and when location is found would head to store instead of online. Lazy has nothing to do with it. Why would you discourage customers from coming in?

    • John
      12:08 AM, February 2018

      Not everyone has the time to go to several dozen stores to find an item or two. If I want Szeged Paprika to make Gulyás and Wal-Mart doesn’t have it, I don’t really want to go to 5 other supermarkets looking for it. I’d rather be able to find it fast.

    • ocrfitstore
      12:42 PM, March 2018

      It’s not about laziness. Its about convenience. Wasting your time and gas money driving around looking for something makes no sense. What if every person called the store to ask a question? They would need an employee just to answer the phone. Not every person views the shopping experience as a social event. Without the internet, people may not even know your store exists. With every one of your products being searchable on the internet, you could be discovered much easier than trying to find you in the yellow pages or a store search. You are increasing the chances of a customer exponentially every product you list for sale on an online store.

  • Karen
    1:31 PM, August 2017

    Thanks for your efforts for brick and mortar localities. Unfortunately I don’t use Barcode system for my boutique, so think I’m out of luck. Best wishes for Pointy.

  • Jose G. molina
    2:34 AM, September 2017

    we are just small mom and pop store and we don’t have barcodes in our store. can we still join in ?

    • Steve Nyhuis
      12:35 PM, March 2018

      You could always create your own online store and add inventory from scratch.

  • Michael Ford
    10:10 PM, September 2017

    On the surface this looks fantastic! Hope the details don’t disappoint.

  • Julie G Workman
    3:32 AM, November 2017

    I often feel frustrated as I search for specific items that I can only find online and know at times I could simply pick it up locally if I knew where to go! I do NOT have time to call or go to potential shops searching. Additionally, I would prefer to support local businesses when possible. I have hoped for something like this, congratulate you, and wish I’d have come up with it myself. My next desire…if you could upload an item photo to a site that could then display vendors that stock the item, it would be amazing. So, how as a consumer can this work for me now? I’ve been shopping online the last two days and found nothing local.

  • Pablo
    2:31 AM, January 2018

    I’m an IT engineer and had an idea very close to yours years ago. I had to keep my work to pay the bills… I wish you guys the best! 🙂

  • Janell Hawk
    2:08 PM, February 2018

    Brilliant!

  • Joni Greeson
    12:32 AM, February 2018

    Sounds good! Can you come to Collectic Home and set it up?

  • Veronica Phelps
    8:10 PM, February 2018

    I have a small business and just recently I have purchased a scanner and implemented a barcode scanner. It is FABULOUS! It has taken a lot of work to get set up because not all products have barcodes but very much worth the effort and it will allow me to be able to hire someone to run my store should the need arise that I cannot be here! For those of you who have unique items in your store, you can create your own barcode system with a free barcode generator. There are several on-line and I did this for the unique items in my store as well. Just print the barcodes off on a label and you are good to go! God bless you as you start a new adventure!

  • suz
    5:01 PM, May 2018

    what if I don’t have a scanner or POS system?

    • Emily Cain
      5:21 PM, May 2018

      You need a scanner and POS for Pointy to work for you.

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