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The world we are living in today is ‘always on’. Thanks to cloud technology and the rollout of superfast mobile broadband, we are witnessing continual changes and developments both in the way people work, and live. This tech-first environment might look like a barrier to entry for smaller retailers with less investment capital, but, with a little creativity, it can represent an opportunity to thrive.

Today’s world is one where people can do their shopping from a smartphone or tablet, on trains, in offices sat on their sofas, at any time of day or night. Queuing in a shop has become almost a thing of the past and shoppers now have an impatient expectancy to receive purchases shortly after placing an order. Online shopping has become the norm – the world is now viewed through a five-inch screen.

Large retailers have adapted, and many rely on aggressive investment to roll out advertising campaigns across different media, or offer multiple delivery times to their customers. But while the big hitters are using economies of scale to offer increased customer convenience – the likes of Argos, Amazon Prime and soon possibly Tesco – small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) can still tap into their own unique advantage to compete.

Nimble business structures and distinctive brand identities allow independent retailers to make the most of this new retail landscape. The three areas SME’s should focus on in order to make the most of these strengths are IT systems, marketing and outsourcing.

IT systems

Small and mid-sized retailers can benefit greatly from extended use of cloud-based systems to significantly reduce up-front investment costs. Larger businesses are often saddled with legacy IT systems due to early investment and many now have to choose between coping with out-dated software and costly upgrades across the company.

Independent retailers can maintain a nimble structure as they grow, by outsourcing their IT infrastructure where possible, whilst using cloud facilities to ensure they can easily integrate new technology and the most up-to-date systems. Using existing software platforms to build websites, process payments and keep the books allows smaller retailers to focus all of their efforts on making the customer experience as enjoyable as possible.

Marketing and social media

Personal interaction between consumers and retailers has seen a return to vogue, with shoppers once again wanting a more traditional relationship with independent traders. This is another problem for retail giants, and an excellent opportunity for independent retailers, where SME’s are already leading the way. A simple extension of already-established customer relationships and interactions into the digital sphere will hugely assist with small and mid-sized business marketing. In Birmingham, Urban Coffee took an innovative approach to social media, using Twitter as their main communication with customers. Using their handle to build strong relationships, launch regular competitions and share exciting (and non-product related) content, the independent coffee shop now has 11K followers

Social media provides another invaluable marketing resource easily for smaller brands and retailers to tap into. The accessibility of social channels allows brands to respond in real-time, tapping into local news and trends, whilst freely expressing their brand.

Delivery

The importance of personal interaction is not just about online customer experience or shop staff who care – it is now stretching across all retail operations, and it’s an area where small businesses can maintain an advantage. Delivery is the next big challenge for retail, and as this becomes the main personal interaction between consumers and shops, small retailers need not be intimidated by the likes of Amazon Prime.

Sensible outsourcing can put SMEs on a level playing field, whilst allowing them to maintain their personal, boutique offering which appeals to their customers. That’s why at CitySprint we have focused our retail offering on providing reliable, high-speed deliveries; getting goods to customers how they want them, when they want them.

With our latest offering, On the dot, even the smallest retailers can offer scheduled and same-day delivery without significant investment. Customers can select a one-hour slot, seven days a week, and receive a trained courier service, at similar prices to the next-day offering from high street providers. This focus on offering the highest levels of ease and flexibility is the future for retailers looking to increase their digital spend.

The outcome

Whilst the omnipresent feel of retail giants may make SMEs feel they have been cast in a shadow, the digital world of today is in fact their time to shine. Through the adoption of lower-cost cloud platforms, continued engagement with customers via social channels and sensible outsourcing, small businesses are hot on the heels of even the biggest retailers.

By Justin Moore, Sales & Marketing Director at CitySprint