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What your small retail business can do to stand out from the crowd

Independent retailers are booming in the UK, whilst large chains are in decline on the high street – how can you make your small high-street outlet or online shop stand out from the crowd?

The UK’s small independent retailers are enjoying a resurgence as bigger rivals are forced to shut up shop.

A study from OnBuy in March 2018 found that independent store openings are soaring across Britain, while chain stores have declined in every region of the UK except Yorkshire and the Humber.

The growth of online marketplaces such as Notonthehighstreet.com, Trouva and Etsy have also helped British consumers discover wares from independent retailers that they may never have found otherwise.

The importance of an online presence to a high street retailer is well-documented, but it’s not a one-way street… Research from commercial property company British Land has highlighted the “symbiotic relationship” between physical stores and e-commerce platforms.

The opening of a bricks-and-mortar store can boost traffic to your retail site by an average of 52% within six weeks of opening. And it’s not a short-term increase: research shows that online visits to your site from customers in the local area tend to remain at this level.

So, now you know about the power of this mutually beneficial relationship, here are 5 ways to ensure your small retail business stands out from the crowd online, and on the high street:

1.Treat your website homepage and shop front as one and the same

The homepage of your company’s website is your digital shop front. It needs to tell people what you’re selling, engage them and encourage them to enter the shop/ click through to buy.

Just as people will stroll past a shop window on the high street and move on until they find what they’re looking for, they’ll glance at your homepage and quickly make a decision about whether its hawking what they’re hankering for, so make sure this is clear and well-advertised.

A well-designed shop front and homepage should be your first port of call for having a stand-out brand.

Remember: with most users now using mobile devices to access the internet rather than desktops, make sure your website is optimised for mobile or you risk losing website visitors and, therefore, potential sales.

It’s also important to have a consistent brand image across your brick and mortar store, online and on your social media channels. This will ensure your brand is memorable and recognisable wherever it is encountered.

Five year-old Mancunian bakery business The Manchester Cakehouse offers a good example of consistent brand messaging, using uniform logos, colours and formats across its website and Facebook page.

2. Be active and visible on social media

This is equally true for online and high street retailers if you want your independent retail business to stand out.

Have an active presence on platforms where you’ll be visible to potential customers and engage with them. This could be to answer their queries or to promote sales and special offers. You’ve got something to sell so stand up and shout about it!

This visibility will drive traffic to your website and footfall to your shop. You want to create a connection in consumers’ minds between your brand and what it’s selling so that you’re the first name they think of.

3. An easy journey from browsing to basket both in-store and online

If you want to create a stand-out customer experience and maximise sales, the best thing you can do is make buying a simple experience – both online and in-store.

Online, it should be an intuitive one-click process to go from browsing to basket. A difficult user experience (UX) will be seriously damaging for conversions. You can analyse exactly where visitors drop of in the buying journey to identify pain points and then rectify them to ensure a smooth and easy process.

In a similar way, you should pay careful attention to the journey customers take through your physical retail space.

Research has shown that customers tend to move around your shop floor in predictable patterns, with most turning right and navigating round in an anti-clockwise direction

Understanding these patterns can help you design the layout of your shop and arrange your products to ensure customers browse longer and buy more. Customers can also be put off by narrow aisles that restrict their personal space.

Don’t be tempted to overfill your shop floor in the mistaken belief that it will encourage buying – it could have the opposite effect.

4. Keep it fresh

Whether it’s on your rails and shelves, or your e-commerce platform, regularly rotating what you’re selling is the best way to make sure consumers keep coming back for more.

Give customers a reason to make repeat visits by refreshing your stock and let them know when you have exciting new products in via email and social media.

Don’t just keep your products fresh though; if you have blog posts or other written/ video content on your website, update it regularly to keep people engaged with your brand.

This content doesn’t always have to be directly promotional in nature: anything that interests your customers and gives them a reason to visit your site is good for building your brand and standing out online.

Likewise, refresh the window displays and layout of your brick and mortar store and use your shop front to promote the latest offers you have inside to entice people in.

5. Encourage customer loyalty to keep them coming back for more

Loyalty schemes aren’t just a great way to encourage repeat business; they can also help you learn more about your customers.

Small high street retailers no longer need to spend out on cards and stamps that clog up wallets.

Digital loyalty platforms targeted at small independent retailers such as Yoyo Wallet and Loyalzoo allow you to offer customers far more effective rewards schemes through their phones. And by capturing behavioural data, your business can offer customers tailored offers and incentives that they’ll actually use.

Online, you can sign up customers to your e-commerce platform loyalty scheme via email subscription. You can then reward your customers with points for particular actions such as making purchases or promoting your brand across social media. These points can then be exchanged for rewards or discounts.

Being a smaller retailer allows you to be far more personal than large chains and to make your customers feel more valued.

For instance, you could acknowledge a customer’s birthday with a personalised message or gift, or include them in celebrations of the major milestones they’ve helped you achieve. This could be hitting a certain number of subscribers or a achieving a revenue target.

There is one sure fire way to protect your small retail business for the future. AXA offers a range of business insurance policies to protect your business, whatever lies ahead.

If you’d like to discuss your business insurance needs in more detail, you can call AXA’s advisers on 0330 159 1520 or get more information at www.axa.co.uk/insurance/business.