Online competition

Challenge Accepted: Meeting the challenge of online competition

Cassie Green is the editor of Awards & Engraving Magazine. She can be reached at cgreen@nbm.com or by phone at 720-566-7278.

Note: This article appears in the October 2017 issue of A&E magazine. To ensure you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!

Everywhere you look you see people using their phones and tablets to surf the web, look for business contact information, or shop for products they need. The vast majority of the population uses the internet to do most of their commerce these days, whether it’s searching Amazon to purchase clothing or utilizing Etsy to sell their homemade gifts. And while it’s still common practice to hit the mall or shop at a department store, the age of digital shopping has come on strong… and shouldn’t be ignored.

As awards retailers, it’s important to view this digital competition as something to capitalize on rather than fight. Online retail doesn’t have to kill your physical business—in fact, the internet world can work in your favor. For those who haven’t wandered into the web arena yet, or for those looking to expand their digital presence, there are many ways to take on the online “competition”—you just need to know how to make it work for you.

Embrace the Competition

First and foremost, it’s important to not be afraid to embrace the digital world. It may seem like fierce competition, but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, when executed correctly, a strong digital presence will help small brick-and-mortar shops compete against sites like Etsy or even Amazon.

“If you are scared about the digital age, don’t be,” says Aaron Montgomery, 2 Regular Guys and MontCo Consulting. “It is the same if not easier than how business was done 30 to 40 years ago.” The main aspect he points out is to not solely focus on what the competition is doing, but instead to focus on your own company. And in the case of online business, you can even make the competition part of your own plan.

“Think about Amazon. They sell pretty much anything, and their products are easily accessible for most people,” says Peggy Waters, Unisub. “Many people think that it’s easier and less expensive to buy products on sites like Amazon than it is to go to a physical location. That’s why it’s helpful to have a (web presence) so people can find you.” In order to beat the online competition, you essentially have to join it.

And if you haven’t yet taken advantage of a digital presence, it’s time to do so. “The majority of today’s consumers are making purchasing decisions based on research from the internet regardless of when and where they wind up making their final decision and placing the order,” states Kelly “Rags” Ragland, Rags to Stitches Productions. “Pew Research reported in December 2016 that eight of 10 consumers are now purchasing primarily online.” In other words, online retailers will prove to be fierce competition if you aren’t in the game.

Set Up Your Site

There are a lot of different avenues to take when jumping into the online world. Knowing where to start can be tough. If you aren’t sure, the best and most basic place to begin is with your own website.

“To be successful, you need to be where your target market can see and interact with you, so having a website is critical to that success,” emphasizes Waters. “A website lends credibility, and it can enhance your company’s reputation as an established and professional business.” Since the majority of people are using the web to compare businesses and find contact information, having a professional and well-put-together website places you high among your competition.

It’s easy to set up a basic website, according to Montgomery. First, keep in mind that it isn’t necessary to hire a professional to do so, depending on your situation. “Using a tool like WordPress, you can quickly get a site up and keep it up to date,” he points out. “On the flip side of this, you do need to value your time versus the return on investment of hiring a professional.” The time you might save plus the look and functionality a professional web designer provides may justify hiring one.

In addition, Montgomery cautions against “free” website services where the domain is yourcompany.freewebservice.com. “You need to make sure your website is your domain only as the free websites stick out like a sore thumb and will instantly turn off potential customers,” he says.

Once you have a site set up, there are a few key components that must be included if your business is going to meet the challenge of online competition. “The search engines need to know your business name, location, contact information, and as many keywords about your business as you can provide through both online web page verbiage and meta data,” Ragland states. “Make sure you provide a clear and professional story about who you are and what your business does, high-quality images of your products, professional branding, ease of navigation, and a simple, not overly detailed contact form.”

Working Together

Just because you’ve set up a website does not mean your brick-and-mortar location should be ignored or even closed down. In fact, the opposite is true. When executed the right way, a physical location coupled with a strong online presence will stand strong against the competition of online-only companies.

“There’s nothing like seeing a product in person, and the in-person advice you can give your customers will go far,” Waters believes. She adds to that point that if you have a Google listing, it will set the organic search to the locations closest to the person typing in the search. “This gives you an advantage,” she states as the perfect example of how the two work together.

Along with having a Google listing to drive customers to your physical location, you can also employ a few other internet strategies that will help your brick-and-mortar location see more traffic. “You can create an effective marketing plan using coupons, contests, open house events, and more,” advises Ragland. “When you make your voice heard online, you draw people to your location using that voice.”

And don’t forget that it’s the face-to-face, personal customer service you provide that beats online giants such as Amazon. “What don’t you get when buying from an online company? A live, caring person that is going to take you by the hand and make the experience amazing for you,” Montgomery points out. Make what you do the focus of your business both online and in your shop, and you will top the competition every time. “Stay focused on what you do—don’t worry about what someone else is doing. Strive to make your customer’s experience the best it can be regardless of where that experience occurs, online or in your shop,” he finishes.

Note: This article appears in the October 2017 issue of A&E magazine. To ensure you can access this and other industry-focused pieces, be sure to subscribe today!