5 ways you can compete with big-box retailers


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Today’s retail landscape is competitive; sites like Amazon have a large piece of the pie and it’s hard to compete with the low prices and wide range of products of stores like Target. Despite this, independent business owners need not fear industry giants.

One of your biggest strengths that you may have overlooked? As an independent retailer, you have complete control of your business in ways that a large-scale retailer does not. You’re capable of testing out creative ideas and can quickly adapt them to your customers’ wants and needs.

Read our 5 actionable tips on how you can compete with big-box retailers.

1. Offer a killer in-store experience

Brick-and-mortar retail is far from dead, it still accounts for 86% of U.S. retail sales. This being said, it has evolved. Today’s shoppers expect more from the in-store experience than they may have a decade ago so go the extra mile and make it extra special.

  • Offer additional services: For example, free jean hemming or a bike tune-up. Not only are these appreciated by your customers for their convenience and added value, but it also gets them returning to your shop. Take the opportunity to make another sale or simply build a connection with your customer.
  • Appeal to the senses: Sense-based marketing is real and it works. Think of the 5 senses and what you can do for customers to create a positive emotional connection to your brand. Small details can go a long way, such as complimentary coffee or tea, fresh flowers at the register, music that suits your brand, and creative product displays. The more creative you are and the more senses you appeal to, the more memorable the experience will be for your visitors.
  • 2. Have an online store

    An online store is a must if you want to survive as a brick and mortar business: 53% of all purchase decisions are digitally influenced. Not only do today’s consumers do their research before they pay you a visit in person, but they also want flexibility in terms of how they shop. For example, browse online and pay in-store and vice versa. If you don’t have an online store, it’s difficult for shoppers to compare products and prices between your store and the competition.

    Worried about the time commitment required to set up an eCommerce site? Luckily, there are many out-of-the-box software options available these days, so you can build a site that’s true to your brand without hiring a developer.

    3. Build relationships with your community

    Do you think big box stores know their customers by name or recognize whose dog is tied up outside their shop? Probably not, but you do. Use these relationships to your advantage and get lots of face time with your community in and outside of your shop.

  • Attend street fairs or pop-ups: The more your community sees your business, the more likely they are to keep you top of mind.
  • Host in-store events: Have an exciting new product line? Host an event to celebrate. 87% of consumers said they purchased the brand’s product or service after an event at a later date.
  • Host workshops: Help customers learn something new and give them another reason to connect with your brand. Host a knitting night, soap-making class, dog training—there’s a workshop for every business type and every retail space.
  • 4. Make data-driven business decisions

    Don’t make decisions based only on your gut instincts. Big box stores crunch data to figure out how to serve their customers better and you can too. There are tools out there that are intuitive and accessible no matter how tech-savvy or comfortable with numbers you are.

  • A cloud-based POS system: As an independent business owner, you need to use your resources wisely and focus your efforts where they count. The right POS system gives you that power. Manage inventory and employees, check on your daily sales even when you’re not in, and use your data for marketing efforts, for example, targeted emails based on customers’ past purchases.
  • Analytics tools: Most POS systems come with built-in reporting tools or the option to use integrated apps. Use them to see what shoppers want, where you might be wasting money, and identify growth opportunities. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  • 5. Be authentic

    This is what consumers want more than anything, especially Millennials. According to research, 91% of customers value honesty in the companies from which they buy and 63% of customers choose authentic brands over those that aren’t as transparent. Authenticity is what builds trust, and this trust affects your bottom line.

  • Be genuine and true to your values: In your communications with customers, don’t worry about having perfect writing or sounding as professional as possible. What matters to customers is that your business is transparent, trustworthy, credible, and approachable. In other words, just be yourself.
  • Be design-driven: It’s always a good idea to stock your shelves with trendy items, but don’t forget that everyone wants to feel unique. Offer custom work, products from local brands, handcrafted items or one-of-a-kind pieces.
  • The main draw for large retail establishments is the convenience, competitive prices and a sense of consistency that makes people feel comfortable. While you can’t beat out the big guys on everything (for example, your prices can only go so low), use your strengths to your advantage to stay competitive: Take the in-store experience to the next level, help shoppers discover your store online, engage with your community, be data-driven, and keep it real.

    Heather Hamilton
    Heather loves to write content that helps entrepreneurs stay competitive and improve the way they run their business. When not at the Lightspeed castle, this thrift-store junkie and avid reader can usually be found wandering around Montreal’s St-Henri neighbourhood in search of food.


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