As an independent retail store owner, you know that being found online is important, especially with big-box retailers and e-commerce giants like Amazon breathing down your neck.
But how are you supposed to get found online without spending loads of money? Websites are expensive and paid advertising on platforms like Yelp or Facebook can be hit or miss.
Is your only option to spend thousands of dollars on a website and online advertising? And how are you meant to get all your products online when you have so many?
All hope isn’t lost: how to get found online
If you’re a small store in a local area, you might be used to advertising in the local paper or maybe all the locals know your name because your business has been around for generations. But word of mouth won’t reach everyone.
What about the increasing number of people who are picking up their cell phones and searching for “hardware store near me” or a specific type of product, for example? They want what you’re selling – but they may not know about your business or if you have that product in stock.
So, what are your options?
1. Create a business website
If you’ve already got a website, you can skip to point number two on learning about SEO. If you don’t, you’ll need to get up-to-speed with the five basic steps involved in setting up a website:
- Register your website’s domain name – essentially the name and address of your website, for example YourHardwareStore.com. You can buy a domain from any domain provider, such as Bluehost or Register365.
- Purchase a hosting package. Think of it like this: a domain is the address of a house, while the hosting package is the foundations where everything is built. It’s generally useful to buy your domain and hosting from the same company. Make sure you look up plenty of reviews before you choose a provider.
- Build the actual website. You can use a service like WordPress, Wix, or Weebly or pay someone to build your website for you.
- Populate your website with information about your store. What do you sell? Where are you located? Are you going to create a blog or connect social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter?
While these five steps are simple in theory, there’s plenty of work involved. Of course, you also have the option of hiring a web design agency or developer to build your website for you, though costs could quickly grow.
Some useful links to check out include:
- How to make a business website in 5 simple steps.
- How to create a website: a guide from a web developer.
- How to choose web designer.
2. Get to know SEO
Huh? You might be thinking ‘what’s SEO?’
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a set of rules that helps to improve your search rankings – for example, if someone searches “hardware store near me”, these rules will determine which store comes up at the top of the page.
SEO can be a complicated headache for most businesses – and it’s even harder for companies who aren’t technically-inclined or who are family-run and don’t really have the resources.
Of course, you want your store to rank first when someone searches for “hardware store near me” but SEO can be costly – especially if you’re investing in a website too.
SEO is so important because it helps your customers to find you, which can put you ahead of competitors or help you to fend off Amazon or big-box retailers.
Learning and implementing SEO is time-consuming and can be expensive, leading to many stores outsourcing SEO to a marketing agency or hiring someone to work on it in-house. You can also do research online with resources like the following:
- A Complete Guide to SEO: What You Need to Know in 2019.
- The Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
- The Ultimate SEO Checklist.
You might be thinking that that sounds like a lot of hassle and hard work, but did you know that, according to Google’s keyword data, 100,000 to 1 million searches are made for the phrase “hardware store near me” every month?
That’s a lot of potential business you might be losing out on because your competitor is coming up before you in search.
3. Try creating content that your customers will like
Creating content (for example, writing a blog) is useful for several reasons: it helps your customers find you; you can use it to create an email list that you send promotional emails to; and it helps with your SEO.
Essentially, it gives your customers another way to find you online. Home Depot has an active blog where the team write about DIY and home improvements. Its most popular blog, about prepping and painting an accent wall, has been shared 6,100 times on social media in the last year, while Lowe’s is very active on its blog and social media.
A couple of years ago, Lowe’s “Made In A Minute” series was particularly effective, notching up millions of shares for its smart, short videos on social media.
Both Lowe’s and Home Depot use their blog posts about home improvement to show off their expert knowledge, and also to showcase some of the tools they have in-store so that customers think of them when they’re doing their next DIY project.
However, the unfortunate truth is that Lowe’s and Home Depot have invested heavily in their blogs and social media channels – which may not be an option for you. You can start small by aiming to write a blog post a week that is educational and helpful to your customers. If you can’t do it yourself, ask someone in your store who has an interest in writing.
Ultimately, creating a blog or content on social media is another way for your customers to find you, driving brand awareness, exposure and – hopefully – sales.
4. Get your products online
Think about the last time you bought a product in a store. It doesn’t have to be a store like yours. Let’s say that you’re looking for a specific product – in this example, you’re going to a party and you’re looking for a specific bottle of wine as a gift for the host.
You don’t have time to check several local stores to see if they stock the wine – so wouldn’t it be useful if you could search for “Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon near me” and then Google could tell you a nearby local retailer that has it in stock right now?
Of course it would.
Your first step to being found online, locally, is with Google My Business, a free Google service where you essentially “claim” your business and fill out a profile with information like your name, address, phone number, website, opening hours, and more.
Think of Google My Business as being like a business listing that displays who you are and what you do to potential customers. It can be a useful starting point to being found online as customers can leave reviews (hopefully good ones!). Google also offers data and insights into how customers searched for your business.
While that’s useful for getting your store itself online, what if you could go a step further and get every single one of your products online too so that they can be told it’s in stock in their store when they search for it?
Most hardware stores have thousands of products – which can make uploading them all to a business website extremely time-consuming, not to mention expensive.
Pointy can put all your products online without the hassle.
Pointy is a small device that connects with your POS and creates a Pointy page that catalogues all your in-store products and the live inventory, so customers who search for “hardware store near me” or any of the thousands of products you offer will rank higher in the search results – which takes care of the pesky problem of trying to learn complicated SEO or setting up a website if you don’t already have one!
There are more than 35,000 independent hardware stores, home centers, and lumber yards around the US – that’s double the number of McDonald’s. They’re your competitors – and so are Amazon and other big-box and online stores.