Small Businesses Lose Big – Or Do They?


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Why do you frequent small businesses? Why do you shop local?

Last month, the team at Software Advice published the findings of a six-month long research study, The Great Retail Experience Race: Local vs. National, in an article titled, “Small Businesses Lose Big to the Big Guys When it Comes to Presenting Offers.” They compared five major national retail chains to five local shops on three experience metrics:

1. % Upsell/cross-sell

2. % Personal/emotional connection made

3. Time to make personal/emotional connection

The infographic to the left summarizes their findings. One of the conclusions noted:

Ironically, the local stores actually had more opportunities during the race to upsell customers because their employees talked to our site visitors more often (the second column in the graphic shows the percent of times where a personal, emotional connection was made with the customer). The small businesses simply didn’t take advantage of these opportunities to upsell at the same rate as the national stores.

This got me thinking. While the Software Advice team takes the retailers’ point of view and provides advice for the small retailers to help them grow their businesses, I’m going to first consider this from the customer point of view.

Back to my original questions: Why do you frequent small businesses? Why do you shop local?

Is it because you know these businesses are going to push their marketing tactics and daily deals on you?

Or is it because they are close and convenient, and more importantly, you truly do have a personal and emotional connection? Is it because the shop owner is your neighbor or your uncle?

I think we shop small businesses and shop local for different reasons than we shop the big box/big brand retailers. Perhaps there are some things that the national retailers can learn from local retailers’ customers:

We are your neighbors, family, and friends. Treat us that way. Know that we are the reason you are in business.

We don’t want to be upsold or cross-sold every time we shop. Sometimes, I just want a cup of coffee.

And from the local retailers to the national brands:

We are building our businesses, one brick, one customer at time. In order to do that, we value each and every individual that walks into our stores.

We’re in it for the long haul. If we constantly upsell and cross-sell, our customers will tire of that. We want them to come back and shop without fear of being sold to every time. If we can help them, yes, we will certainly do that.

We have to work a little harder. We don’t have the marketing budget of the national brands, which means we take a different approach. We greet customers as they enter our stores. We engage in friendly chatter. We put our hearts and souls into our businesses. We focus on the experience, not the discounts.

As a result, we are building relationships. We are having conversations, learning about our customers, and helping them buy the right product to meet their needs. We are taking names, remembering faces, and looking forward to the day we see our customers again. This is our community.

We are unique. We can offer different products, change our menus, and create unique experiences for our customers without having to go through a corporate review process.

We know what “ownership” means. National brands can only hope that their employees are as committed to their businesses as we are to ours.

We stand on our reputation. If we come across as pushy or too focused on making a bigger sale, word gets out. All we have is experiences. We have one or two locations; big box retailers have 700 (or more). If a customer has a bad experience in one of their stores, they could potentially go to another location. We don’t have that luxury.

I’d like to see this study done in other cities and with more representation. Perhaps Austin, and its Keep Austin Weird mantra and community, also adds to the lower upsell/cross-sell numbers and supports my tips to the national brands.

Stop selling. Start helping. -Zig Ziglar

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


  1. Annette, some great points! From my personal perspective, many small shops, notably hardware and retail shops, simply out price themselves. I’m sure not buying in volume requires them to sell higher than big business and this could be to their detriment. Yes, in a bind, convenience rules and savings are sacrificed but taking time constraints away, shopping at big business typically wins. More specifically, I’d rather spend less with a stranger than spent big with a neighbor. I do agree small businesses need to capitalize on their ability to service customers at a more personal level and there are loyalty programs available to help them do just that; this is their advantage point. If they can do that and stay competitive on price, they have a working formula.
    Brett Perlman,

  2. Brett,

    Thanks for your comment – and your insights. You make some excellent points. Price is certainly a factor – which also means they need to win on service.

    Annette 🙂


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