Despite the rapid growth of e-commerce ($740 billion projected in 2023 in the U.S. alone), traditional retail continues to dominate.
According to the Small Business Administration, the retail trade industry in the U.S. includes more than 2.6 million small businesses.
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So, if you’re thinking about starting a retail business, you will have many competitors.
Here are three things you can do from the start to get a competitive advantage for your new retail business:
1. Develop a consistent, reliable multichannel brand.
Even if you’re running a brick-and-mortar retail store, your brand needs to be in all the places your customers are. Today’s customers expect a dual online/off-line experience for all companies. And a failure to deliver that will reflect poorly on your business.
Here’s how you can develop a consistent, multichannel brand presence:
• Survey your customers to gain their invaluable insight. And be sure to reward them for their time with a discount or gift certificate toward a future purchase.
• Maintain a consistent brand voice and user experience everywhere your customers are. Customers should experience your brand consistently whether they’re on social media, a mobile app, your web site or in your retail store.
• Make it easy to communicate with your business through various channels. Provide prompt customer support via phone, e-mail and chat — as well as in-store — whenever possible.
• Create strong social media relationships with customers. Treat your social media profiles as extensions of your support and sales teams. Social networks let you scale your reach by empowering your customers and prospective customers to recommend your business to their friends and followers.
Building a brand with consistent touchpoints across multiple channels will help customers get to know and trust your business faster — and that’s a good thing.
2. Curate a better brand through self-reflection
It’s only through self-awareness and brutal honesty that you can really see how your brand is perceived. And creating a trustworthy, positive brand is especially important for new businesses. So, keep a constant finger on your brand’s pulse.
• Ask customers if there’s anything you can do to serve them better.
• Poll your employees — what are the most common complaints they receive?
• Set up Google Alerts to notify you whenever your brand is mentioned online.
• Don’t sugarcoat any failing. Every problem that you identify is an opportunity to improve your business and brand in a meaningful way.
• Question even your most basic assumptions about your customers and prospects, what they want, and how you can best deliver it.
• Use the feedback you receive to make plans to do better — and follow through.
Don’t wait for something to go awry with your company and your brand and don’t trust assumptions. Make brand monitoring a regular process.
3. Branding is action, too.
Don’t assume that telling your customers what your brand is will actually make it so.
Branding occurs where the rubber meets the road — not in a company memo. While your company logo and other visual brand elements are important, real branding change must come from action.
• Get employee buy-in on your brand. If your employees don’t buy it (and live it) — neither will your customers. Customers can quickly tell if employees love working for someone and this is especially apparent in retail stores.
• Create company policies that will support the branding choices you’ve made.
• Plan your customer’s experience to reflect your brand identity.
• And attack any changes in your retail brand at all levels of your business. Take a holistic view of your brand and make holistic actions to affect real change. Use colors in consistent ways in your stores, on your social profiles, in your advertising and in your marketing materials. Otherwise, you’ll confuse customers and prospects.
Be proactive about managing your brand, curating your product line and developing a multichannel approach that keeps your business in front of your customers, and your retail business will grow faster.
Ross Kimbarovsky is the founder and ceo at Crowdspring and Startup Foundry. Following a 13-year career as a successful trial attorney, Ross founded (in 2007) and leads crowdspring. Ross mentors entrepreneurs through TechStars and Founder Institute, is a member of the executive advisory board for TechWeek, and was honored as one of Techweek100′s top technology leaders and business visionaries. Ross has also founded numerous other start-ups, including Startup Foundry, Quickly Legal and Respect.