Good news for small businesses: Consumer appetite to shop locally is strong. A survey by Yodle, an online marketing company based in the US, found that 82 percent of consumers now regularly shop at their neighborhood businesses and 48 percent plan to increase their use of local businesses over the next year.
Customers are drawn by the businesses’ calibre. Survey respondents cited quality, service, and trustworthiness as the main reasons they’re attracted to local businesses over major retailers — even over price. While 77 percent of those surveyed believe that national chains offer more competitive prices, 72 percent indicated that they are willing to pay a local business more for better-quality work.
Consumers equate local businesses with superior customer service and trustworthiness. Ninety-six percent believe local businesses beat big-box stores on personalizing service and 91 percent think they’re more trustworthy and reliable.
But that doesn’t mean small businesses can stay idle — quite the contrary. As the overall retail landscape becomes more sophisticated and connected, consumers now expect more out of their local businesses. Here’s what they’re looking for, and how to meet their new bar:
Improve your web presence.
Consumers surveyed ranked website improvements as the top change they are interested in seeing at small businesses over the next year. So invest in your website, and make sure that at a minimum it’s simple to navigate (on desktop and mobile), SEO-optimized, and has an intuitive e-commerce platform.
Double down on online reviews.
Online reviews are critical. Over three-fourths of survey respondents want to see online reviews for local businesses, with 40 percent indicating that they expect them. Continually nurture your Yelp presence (or your presence on other review sites that make sense for your industry), so your business doesn’t look stale.
Ideally, you should have several customer reviews from within the past month. On your website, prominently display reviews for both your business as a whole and for each product and service you offer.
How do you get online reviews for your business? You just have to ask. Eighty-nine percent of survey respondents said they’d be willing to write a review if they had a positive experience with a business, while only 7 percent indicated they had ever been asked to do so. So don’t be shy. Peruse your Square Feedback to see which customers have indicated they had a good experience.
Offer a loyalty program.
Loyalty or rewards programs are not only a smart way to get more repeat customers, they help differentiate your business from the competition. Fifty-seven percent of consumers say offering special rewards for returning customers sets local businesses apart.
Communicate more with your customers online.
It may seem counterintuitive, but consumers actually want to see more online communication from local businesses through email and social media. They’re looking for things like appointment reminders, helpful advice and tips from your blog, invitations to events, and business service updates.
You can send beautiful emails through companies such as MailChimp, targeting them to specific groups of customers (loyal, casual, or lapsed). Scheduling partners such as Checkfront, Schedulicity, and Acuity Scheduling, which can be found in the Square App Marketplace let you send automated, friendly reminders to customers to remind them about their upcoming appointments.