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What small business to start: Retail Myths and Misconceptions

November 10, 2012
what small business to start - unashamedly creative

When considering what small business to start you wouldn’t expect people to suggest retail. We’re hearing a lot in Australia currently about how retail is suffering and having a bad time of it. So how can you as a retailer, small or large, help yourself to survive? And as a new small business, is retail a viable option?

Consider this your retail survival guide when considering what small business to start or if you’re competing against the forces of online.

Retail Myths and Misconceptions

what small business to start - unashamedly creative

Photo by Lukas Budimaier

First of all, dealing with this problem effectively needs to start with a little bit of myth busting. Ready?

It’s not cheap imports via internet shopping that is causing you problems.

Price isn’t always the determining factor when a consumer makes a purchase.

If it was, then we wouldn’t have anything other than bargain basement stores. There would be no such thing as brand loyalty. We’d have only one cafe or restaurant in town. We wouldn’t have choices within verticals and product lines.

We’d all be buying the same cheap products. But we aren’t are we?

This is an important distinction to keep in mind when you’re assessing what small business to start or you are wondering why sales are going down. It isn’t always cheap products that hit us.

Other things matter to us when we purchase a product.

I can already hear you screaming “alright smarty pants, why has it changed and why is my store doing worse?” or “my friends all think I’ve got rocks in my head thinking retail is the answer to what business to start next- are they really off the mark?”

Overseas markets being accessible isn’t what drives us to buy product online.

Technology has changed the way people shop. And if you can’t match those changes, you’ll be feeling the pinch. Retail used to be able to seduce, influence, force and cajole customers into shopping on the store’s terms.

Now the customers are the ones who hold all the cards. And they can be a fussy bunch. After all, they’ve been told they are always right for so long, they started to believe you. And in the cases where the practical doesn’t match the perception, retail stores are hurting.

Retail got lazy. It was fairly easy pickings for a number of decades. We were protected and isolated and ended up with high prices and high margins. So shop owners got a tad complacent. Countless people can regale their tail of their own personal Pretty Woman moment with an inattentive shop assistant.

Then of course the internet changed the way we shopped. We became able to self-research. We stopped simply buying the guff of the usual sales patter. And we demanded to be entertained, informed and cared for. And we wanted reasonable prices instead of massive markups.

None of these expectations are unreasonable. And it doesn’t mean there’s no way for business owners to make money in retail.

It simply means you have to make a concerted effort to win the customer over and consider their needs when considering what small business to start or when keeping an existing business afloat.

When considering what business to start, that doesn’t mean retail is a non-starter

The light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train. It just means we’ve got be clever about things.

What goes into making a great shopping experience has not changed. And that is an area entirely within your control if you want it to be. You need to make a concerted effort to match your customer’s expectations of the sales process as much as humanly possible. And I don’t mean investing thousands of dollars in massive campaigns either.

So what are your retail shoppers are looking for?

Funnily enough, we’re going through a bit of a small shop, hands on, crafty style retail shop revival. What business to start might not be the big super-chain franchisee retailer. it may be a little cooler, more boutique and more localised than what we used to run towards.

The key is making sure the customer experience and the retail sales cycle matches that intimate, boutique, local and caring vibe.

These are the sorts of considerations that go through a potential customers mind prior to purchase.

Research process- if I need to get to know a product, is it easy for me to find out what it’s all about? Can I compare it with competing products? Is the information in language I understand? Does it feel genuine? Is it answering my questions?

Convenience- Can I get it tailored to my needs? Can I get it delivered? Do I have to go across town to get it? Will it work with the equipment I already own? How much time will I need to invest to get to know this product and use it, and how much help will the seller give me during that period?

Experience- is there something cool about the shopping experience and/or the product itself? Can I demo the product prior to purchase? I want to feel a part of something- can this product or retailer offer something I can connect with? How seamless is the finding, buying and owning process?

Speed of access- Can I get it today? If not, when can I get it? How long is the wait? Is it worth the wait? Is there something a retailer can offer me that makes the impact of the wait less?

Customer service- Do I feel looked after? Does the sales force give me confidence in their ability to answer any extra questions I have? Are they willing to help me out with any hurdles I may have to buying the product from them? How does the customer service view me? What do other customers say about this retailer and product maker in terms of customer service?

After care- What support is offered to me if things go wrong? Are there any extras available to me from this retailer as opposed to another store that stocks the same product such as upgrades or insurance? What do other customers say about this retailer and product maker in terms of after care? Can I service elements of the product myself with the information the retailer gives me?

Uniqueness- What does this product say about me? Does it mean I am supporting causes and ideals that matter to me? Am I giving back to the local community by shopping here? Is there something distinct and special about this product or retail shop that makes me stand out and gives me a great story to tell later?

When you think about what small business to start or how to improve your customer interactions and your sales, you’ve got to be able to view the world from the customer’s perspective. Really and truly. Not from some assumptive stand point that they are chumps or that you shouldn’t talk to the person in the daggy tracksuit pants.

Busting Retail Myths: The Hard Part…

Existing retailers, can you honestly say you’ve got each of these considerations covered and that what you have in place ensures that hiccups are kept to a minimum?

When considering what business to start, are you also thinking about the experience your customer will have in-store and after they get home as part of your marketing process?

If you don’t give your customers the right kind of information and support from the research stage through to after care and you don’t give them confidence about your ability to look after them as a customer, you may as well hang your competitors posters in the window and get your staff handing out maps to places that will.

I realise this is confronting and it can be hard enough just getting the day to day done, but think of this as an exercise in thinking smarter, not working harder.

Once you’ve jotted down a few areas of improvement and areas where you are super confident, head on over to part 2 of this retail survival guide and read the real reason why online kicks butt and how we can translate that success into your business.

Wondering what small business to start or how to have an earnest conversation with your existing retail customer? Get in touch– I’ll help you out!

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