As a small business retailer, you have a product that someone wants to buy, but there is a problem. Shoppers might not know you have what they want, or that your store even exists. How do you get customers to find your store? Businesses need to understand how the average customer comes to that ultimate decision to buy. It’s called the Customer Journey, and these days it relies on two things – mobile devices and apps.
The Customer Journey in the Past
Getting the word out about your business – it’s been an age-old dilemma that was once solved via radio spots, a yellow pages listing, and a few print ads in the local paper. Even at the dawn of the internet age, the only real difference might be a potential customer going to a website that was a glorified catalog. The old rules of retail still applied. Customers had to go to the store and look at the product in person, and if they had any questions, they asked the nearest store employee. Hopefully, sales associates knew what they were talking about. The customer would then buy the product there, maybe shop around at other stores for a better price, or possibly go home and buy online. The smartphone changed all that.
The Customer Journey Today
As far as retailers are concerned, mobile devices have put the power in the hands of consumers. With a couple of taps to an app, they can find all the information they could ever dream of about any given product. They can see exactly what it does, whether the manufacturer is green or ethical, how high or low verified buyers have rated it and much more. Most importantly, they can find the price and availability of any product at virtually any retail outlet worldwide, where that store is, and when they’re open. It’s a new mindset that shoppers have adopted like they were born to it. Businesses can learn how to make an app and develop them at a very affordable price.
Begin with Buying Habits
The first thing you have to do is understand the buying habits of mobile users, especially millennials. They do their research on a product, check other retailers, then make their decision to buy, and it all hinges on the use of mobile devices and apps. This isn’t done by some universal step-by-step process. There is always some variation on the individual customer’s decision journey, but there are enough commonalities for any retailer to get its products onto the buyer’s radar.
The Role of Mobile
In general terms, consumers trust their phones more than they trust what any store employee or advertisement has to say. This applies to every level of goods from a $10 scented candle to a $2,000 4K TV. Sixty percent of customers will shop across multiple devices before making that final purchase. They may start at work, on a desktop, and continue shopping with a smartphone or tablet later. When customers with smartphones are in the store, eight out of ten will use it as they shop to compare prices and look at reviews.
Mobile is More than a Shopping Tool—It’s a Marketing Tool
All this puts small business owners having to relearn how the commercialization and promotion game is played. It can be intimidating, considering the amount of change technology has already brought to the retail landscape. It’s one thing to be an amateur ad writer and come up with a print ad or radio spot, but how on Earth does a small business handle mobile? Don’t big corporations like Amazon spend hundreds of thousands or even millions building their app? What hope does a mom & pop have in competing with them? Mobile app makers have been making it easier for small businesses to compete.
These trends and changes apply to all levels of retail, including the small business on Main Street, because mobile is driving local as much as it is the national retailers. Customers generally care more about what they’re buying than who they buy from, barring shoppers who mix their consumerism with activism. In many ways, this consumer behavior has leveled the playing field because it gives small businesses the same chance to land a sale as Walmart.
One question retailers always seem to have is how they can compete against online retailers like Amazon who can offer steep discounts because they don’t have a brick-and-mortar store to pay the overhead on? Simple. The savings aren’t always that great, and shipping also eats away at those savings. The low price and shipping overcharge was a popular trick some eBay sellers pulled back in the day, and most online shoppers don’t fall for it anymore. Plus, when a customer wants or needs something now, waiting for 2 to 7 business days can be an eternity. In other words, your store is more competitive than you might believe.
The Three Moments of the Consumer Buying Journey
There are three essential moments when it comes to the consumer buying journey.
1 – The Need or Want
Every purchase begins here when a person either has to buy something essential they need or a luxury they want. It could be anything from a Hershey bar to a washing machine, or professional services such as a plumber or lawyer.
2 – The Research
Once a consumer knows they will be making a purchase, they start any necessary research. It’s at this point that vague ideas turn into concrete plans. A person might know they need a new couch, but that is it. The research is when they find out about new trends in interior decorating, what might be on sale, and what brands are considered the best. When they have all the information they need, they move on to the final step.
3 – The Purchase Decision
This is the golden moment when a potential customer has made her final decision to buy a product. If a retailer can catch a shopper here, it is the best chance to land the sale. Looking back at the couch, let’s say a potential customer has found the exact type and brand of couch she wants. Now she knows where she can buy it, and one thing she might use is a “near me” search.
How Mobile Compliments the Buying Journey
The growing importance of “near me” searches in undeniable. This is where mobile users do a search for the closest goods and services, like a Thai restaurant “near me” or a furniture store “near me.” Having a presence on mobile devices means your business can be with shoppers, even though the shoppers might not be in your store. They can research what they need, find one in the price range they want and know where to go to get it all without ever having to set foot in the store. This can even happen apart from regular business hours.
If you need a bit of final proof of the kind of impact that mobile has had on the retail experience, think on this for a minute. Retailers have seen a 57 percent decrease in foot traffic at their stores. That is a scary figure, except for one thing. The value of those visiting customers has tripled, and the reason is mobile. The people in a store are more likely to be there to buy something, and being able to research products online has eliminated the need for much of the old fashioned consumer reconnaissance.
Mobile technology allows your store always to be there when a shopper is looking at products. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. It is your virtual employee/sales rep who is there to help a customer reach the right decision. The best app makers are allowing businesses of all sizes to create this mobile experience. This is what can let you get to know new shoppers, track and possibly reward returning or loyal customers, and bring in more sales. It’s a way to find out who is there and why, and it’s much more efficient than blind demographics. If your sporting goods store only focuses on men, you could be missing out on potential customers, like the many women who also enjoy the outdoor life and the wives or girlfriends looking for that perfect gift. Now you can reach them anytime, anywhere, and it is why mobile is driving retail on all levels.
About the writer: Andrew Gazdecki is the founder and CEO of Bizness Apps — making mobile apps affordable and simple for small businesses.
Join the #retail and #smartstore conversations on Twitter @agazdecki and @RetailNext, as well as at www.facebook.com/retailnext.