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John Newby

For locally owned businesses, competing with big-box stores, national chains and digital assaults is difficult at best. The odds can be leveled with these two basic ingredients: speed and service.

When it comes to speed, it is important to understand the shift in consumer habits. Consumers are becoming more impatient in their purchasing decisions and moving faster as they seek instant gratification. The internet, with giants such as Amazon, is driving this behavior and desire for speed expectation even higher. A recent Google report showed that search results for the term “open now” have nearly tripled in the past year. On the other hand, Google searches for the term “store hours” dropped significantly in that same period of time.

Consumers are making more rapid decisions than ever before. They want to know what is open now, not what the hours might be. According to Google's Lisa Gevelber, “Consumers are more loyal to speed and need than any particular place or brand.”

According to Google, mobile searches related to the term “same-day delivery” have grown significantly over the past year or so. The same report shows that travel searches for “tonight” and “today” have grown nearly 150% in that same period. Lastly, they also report 53% of mobile visits are abandoned if loading takes more than three seconds. For each second beyond the initial three seconds, another 12% of the searches are abandoned.

What does all this mean for locally owned businesses? It means that for them to succeed, they must double down on the service portion of the ingredient to make up for their lack of speed.

How does a local business double down on service? It can start by providing the consumer with an experience not possible through an online purchase. Locally owned businesses may not be able to provide the lightning-fast speed of their digital competitors, but they can provide the friendly, personal and rewarding experience not provided online. For starters, I wrote a few months ago, providing hours of operation that match consumer shopping habits is critical. Being open when consumers are spending is essential. Most shoppers work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and if you aren’t open after 5 p.m., you are potentially missing out on those working consumers.

Knowing what your consumers want is another critical component. If shoppers continually have a hard time finding those items they need, they will eventually give up and give in to the convenience of the national chains and digital shopping trends. Meeting consumer demands may be one of the hardest tasks to achieve and will take some creativity.

I am aware of a business that promises to provide any item at a price within a few percentage points of what the customer can find it for on Amazon. When a customer wants or orders an item, the business simply goes on Amazon, makes the purchase and has it delivered to the customer’s home. There is nothing saying you can’t assist your customers by using the tools used against you to meet customer demand.

How your employees are taught to interact with consumers also is crucial to long-term success. All employees should be taught and trained to treat consumers like royalty. All employees need to be dressed for success. All employees need to be taught to speak intelligently and thoughtfully. I am always amazed at how well customers are treated at Chick-fil-A when purchasing a simple meal. Studies repeatedly show the appearance of your business is more than just the surroundings; it is the appearance and professionalism of your staff as well.

I am aware of a local pet store owner who heard that customer's pet had died. The business owner then sent flowers to help cheer up the customer. Even though the business may have lost a customer for a period of time, the over-the-top service will earn rewards down the road through word of mouth and appreciation from the former customer.

John Newby is author of the “Building Main Street, Not Wall Street” column dedicated to helping communities combine synergies with local media companies allowing them to not just survive but to thrive. His email is john@360MediaAlliance.net.

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