Far from causing the demise of brick and mortar, the web is enabling business owners to keep their fingers on the pulse of their customer bases, informing their business and marketing decisions and helping determine when it's time to expand. Retailers and local service providers are mining data and monitoring social media to identify trends, stock the most-wanted products and make meaningful connections with their customers.
Related: Why Brick and Mortar Is Here to Stay
Brick-and-mortar websites are all about delivering what viewers need and want. Rise above your competitors by offering more than your customers expect -- an area where big retailers often fail and smaller businesses can pick up the slack simply by being more in touch.
Standing out from the competition is tough, especially if your business is much like others around you. Whether you're a restaurant, a bank, a real estate business, a lawn company or a retail operation, you can gain an advantage by adding services, multimedia, and information.
1. Mobile is your secret weapon.
Mobile searches are designed to favor local businesses, and more than 60 percent of all searches are conducted on mobile devices. If your website is not optimized for the mobile web, you are throwing away a clear advantage.
The latest Google updates moved local businesses to the top of search results. Try it. Is yours the first business in the search? Is it in the search results at any position? Websites not designed for mobile use are excluded from the search. That's right, excluded.
Google is offering you mobile dominance. To take advantage, Florida real-estate broker Retail Solutions Advisors keeps its design simple, consistent and easily accessible on web and mobile.
2. Instant engagement
Cowboy Charters in Key West is a family-owned charter boat business with a small staff, but you can chat directly with the owner any time. When the website loads, a LiveChat window pops up and invites you to chat. If you respond, your chat goes directly to the owner's cell phone for instant response. Captain Mark told me that that it's super cheap -- $20 per month -- and incredibly effective. Their customer service is so impressive, they book two out of three people who inquire on the spot!
3. Showcase your customers.
User-generated content (UGC) creates an infectious atmosphere of engagement, provides social proof, and, in some cases, demonstrates the value of your business. The Platt College student gallery shows off the amazing artwork created by their students, and effectively demonstrates what students can expect to learn. Making satisfied customers (or students) a selling point is a brilliant way to encourage involvement while providing social proof.
4. Online appointment setting
Allowing your customers or patients to set their own appointments saves time and money for you, and lets your clients take control of their own schedule. Dr. Dental walks patients through locating the nearest office and choosing an appointment time with a simple, intuitive interface. They cut down additional time spent in the waiting room by offering the endless pile of paperwork online for patients to fill out in advance.
Great customer service is rooted in giving customer options and cutting down on frustrations. Medical offices and other businesses that rely on appointments can boost your productivity, please your customers and keep everything running smoothly.
5. Get involved with your community.
Use your position as a local business to advocate and support local causes. Harley-Davidson is all about community and giving back. There's always something charitable going on at your local Harley store, no matter where you are located. Creating a culture around its iconic product is a brilliant strategy that began before the internet, but the web is a great facilitator -- and Harley really knows how to work it.
With your website as a platform, you can use your influence and position to advocate for worthy causes -- a sure-fire way to endear yourself to your local community and create an authentic, unforgettable brand story.
6. Appear bigger than you are.
Establishing credibility can be difficult, especially for a startup business. A professional website and Internet-based telephony service makes your business appear to be more established, professional and bigger than you really are.
The web offers a ton of tools and services to help you do business, connect with your customers, and provide far more than you can with a limited staff and budget. And that helps you build credibility, reputation, traffic to your site and sales.
Online stores and service providers must always be on the cutting edge of web by necessity, but brick-and-mortar store owners often put up a basic website and neglect it, thinking it can't really help their business. And they miss out on tremendous opportunity. By adding a few extra features and services, you can crush your local competition.