Well actually, no. The truth is the retail landscape has changed over the last decade. Rather than seeing it as a threat, smart independents are now embracing the opportunities digital brings and using them in a way that allows them to play to their own strengths. But it is important to recognise the digital world has transformed customer expectations and behaviour, and that transformation is just as significant for the offline retailer too.
You don’t need to be a technical whizz, but if you’re planning to become an offline retailer or even open a market stall, here are three fundamental things you must get right.
A strong online presence
Today, the lines between online and offline worlds are so blurred they simply cannot be viewed in isolation. Your customers might shop with you offline, but recent reports show that 83 per cent of people in the UK made a purchase online last year, and that means it is fairly likely that even your most loyal customers may have contributed to Amazon’s whopping £4.4bn revenue.
Even if you have no intention of selling your products online, having a strong online presence will add to your credibility. Some 95 per cent of UK adults use the internet and 44m people carry a smartphone, so a good online presence will help you as an offline retailer get found by new customers.
Investing in a reliable, well-designed website may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it will pay dividends over time. Similarly, social media is something many small businesses shy away from, but if you’re going to become a valued part of your local community, you need to be engaged with that community online too. Done well, it could be the most cost-effective marketing tool you have at your disposal.
Smart data use
Many people see the idea of using data as something that is exclusively for online businesses and retail giants. After all, analysing and using such information requires expensive data integrations and skilled technical staff to support and work on these platforms if you are going to translate the data into anything useful, right?
In some ways the smart use of “big data” is what has given retail giants a competitive advantage for many years, but the good news is there is now a plethora of low-cost tools and technology that will enable even the smallest offline retailers operate more efficiently.
It wasn’t long ago that most retailers relied on a point of sale system that was little more than a calculator and a cash drawer. Today, a till can become the central hub that pulls together data from all the different touch points in your business. It can enable you to spot seasonal demand trends, manage cash flow, get smarter about how you organise stock and staff, and even understand your customers better, adding real long-term value to your business.
In our increasingly anonymous digital world, genuine human interaction is scarcer than ever before. However, this only makes it more valuable, and therefore presents a real opportunity for offline retailers.
The level of service offered by online retailers is advancing all the time, with more and more of the retail giants using artificial intelligence to make the customer experience personalised and efficient. The one thing computers still cannot do, however, is add creativity, empathy or passion, which is why you need engaged, motivated people in your business. Whether you’re a High Street retailer or a market stall, you must play to your strengths and make a human, emotional connection with customers if you are going to build long-term relationships.
Oliver Rowbory is co-founder of The Good Till Co., a cloud-based POS system that gives independent retailers, bars and cafes access to powerful data intelligence.