Consumers have been moving more of their purchases online even before the pandemic hit. However, when COVID-19 did hit the move to online purchasing accelerated at such a clip that it is leaving some brick and mortar businesses wondering how they can compete without a digital storefront and maintain their local customer base.

You Need More than Just an Online Presence

Moving the business online and offering delivery are some ways local businesses have adjusted, but small businesses should also look at what kinds of value-added services they can add to their existing business that would give them a competitive advantage over their larger e-commerce competitors. Small businesses should also avoid the pitfalls that come when they ignore the basics of customer service or staying on-message in their social media posts.

Where brick and mortar businesses have an advantage over online retailers is in the area of product knowledge and customer service that comes from well-trained and experienced staff interacting with customers in-store. This is an advantage you can exploit. Having staff explain options, answer questions, compare products, and explain how a product works are the in-real-life aspects missing from the online retail experience. Adding other value-added services like delivery and installation can really make a difference and garner more local sales.

Don’t Neglect Staff Training

Of course, all this rests on having a well-trained staff that understands how to talk to customers and create a great in-store experience. As anyone in retail will tell you, all it takes is one lousy customer interaction to stick with people, and in small communities around Wyoming, word spreads quickly and can have an outsized negative impact on your business.

Be Particular About Your Social Media Posts

Sometimes it is not bad in-store service that can lead to businesses failing, but bad behavior on social media. In this day of instant communication, a business needs to be cognizant of the message that they are sending. It can be very easy for an innocent comment or joke — even on a personal page or forum — to be taken out of context and spread like wildfire.

A good rule of thumb is to stay away from commenting on controversial topics like politics, race, and religion to name a few. While it may very well be your right to say whatever you want, that doesn’t mean that you should! Resist the urge to react to something you read or hear and fire off a quick one-liner. Fact check information before you instantly pass it on as true. Instead take a break, maybe even sleep on it, and think about the possible ramifications to your business. Most businesses need every customer they can get, so alienating a group of folks that used to patronize your establishment can be extremely costly.

Don’t Forget the Basics

We live in an interesting time, but some time-tested principles still apply. Treat customers well, provide them additional benefits and service enhancements, and keep your marketing message professional and focused. This will go a long way toward building a successful business. If you provide over-the-top service, you do not have to be the lowest cost provider as people will pay a little extra for that exceptional care!

Help is Available

If you have more questions about how to stay competitive in the age of COVID-19, or would like to discuss the strategies mentioned above, contact your local Wyoming SBDC Network advisor today by clicking here for no-cost, confidential assistance.

About the Author: Bruce’s experience as a former banker and Economic Development Finance Professional helps him to assist clients with all things numbers: loan applications, financial analysis, business planning and projections, and crowdfunding ideas. When he’s not in the office, Bruce loves travel, good food, and an occasional round of golf!

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