This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
With companies like Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly helping people create their own e-commerce stores, taking a business online has never been so easy. And yet, it’s still a challenge to run an online business successfully. “It can be difficult for a small business to really make an impact online, even when it has a beautiful site,” says Olga Vidisheva, the founder and CEO of Shoptiques.com. The 4-year-old business is an online destination for customers to shop brick-and-mortar boutique stores. Having recently signed its 5,000th store, Vidisheva’s company is now the largest of its kind. I sat down with Vidisheva to get her perspective on what it takes for small businesses to thrive online.
- Have a point of view and unique product offering
Commodity businesses such as books and electronics were the first to see e-commerce really squeeze out mom and pop stores. The product offering is uniform and easily comparable. If you’re looking to buy a copy of the latest bestseller there isn’t anything distinguishable from one copy to another. If the differentiators are only price and speed, then purchasing from an e-commerce giant like Amazon is a clear choice even if there is a shop down the street that sells the same item. Amazon may be able to deliver it to your door before you have time to stop by the store.The more difficult industries for Amazon and others to compete in are those with high degrees of differentiation and low degrees of uniformity. “Your offering must stand out and have a point of view,” says Vidisheva. “If what you’re selling is not special, your business will never get off the ground,” she adds. This maxim is true for both e
The more difficult industries for Amazon and others to compete in are those with high degrees of differentiation and low degrees of uniformity. “Your offering must stand out and have a point of view,” says Vidisheva. “If what you’re selling is not special, your business will never get off the ground,” she adds. This maxim is true for both e-commerce and traditional retailers. Vidisheva explains, “for fashion, we really believe that boutiques selling unique items will continue to thrive and those are the boutiques we’re bringing to Shoptiques. It’s not enough to be unique to your zip code or postcode. Once your customers can access product from around the world, you need to be offering something truly special in the global marketplace.”
- Logistics are key
Consumer expectations today are heavily influenced by companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Uber. Consumers want products and experiences that are intuitive, operate smoothly, and arrive virtually on-demand. Once customers take the leap and buy from your store, restaurant or even a dry cleaner, it’s important you don’t lose their trust with a bad delivery experience. “Items need to arrive in perfect condition, quickly, and nicely packaged,” notes Vidisheva. “It is no longer enough to just offer the product, whether you are a large or small business, the consumer expects a lot from the start to finish of their purchase experience.”
- Embrace the omnichannel
Your brand is your brand, wherever customers experience it. “Cultivating a brand identity is critical for a small business,” says Pinkyotto boutique owner Peter Hsia. “Whatever the client sees or experiences becomes your brand.” That means your site, app, social media, and in-store aesthetic should be consistent. “The website shouldn’t feel like a departure from your product.” Vidisheva adds. “A customer should immediately recognize the look and feel. It builds recognition and repeat rate.” Eliminate the ‘e’ in e-commerce and think about how to use technology to serve all of our customers across every touch point. It shouldn’t matter if your customer wants to walk in the door and try something on or if your customer wants to purchase via a tweet from the other side of the world. Technology is what will allow small business owners to operate on a global scale.
- Always be on their minds
There are more ways than ever to be in touch with your customers. Social media is an essential communication tool for a company to engage with customers on a regular basis, and so is email. For brick-and-mortar stores, an online presence is also a way to cross-promote. Elliot Dejmal of New York’s Dor L’ Dor boutique explains, “I love being able to market the website to customers in-store and market the physical stores on the web.”
- See what else is out there – and use it
Companies like Shoptiques, PostMates, and OpenTable make it easier for small businesses to compete in a global scale. As Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local wrote, “As a result of technology, services that were once only available to multinational companies with millions of dollars in revenue are now only an app away for small businesses.” Small businesses shouldn’t shy away from using these types of services to grow their digital footprint.
Have more thoughts on tech and small businesses? Share them in the comments section below. And check out the independent boutiques on Shoptiques here.