The Internet has revolutionized the information that is available to businesses and the speed with which it is available. This has created both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is that an established company has ways to expand, grow, and leverage its experience and current business base with lower cost and less investment. The challenge is that the Internet has opened businesses to new competition that does not need offices, sales representatives, or inventory.
An existing business has two choices:
- Use the new information available to enhance and improve the business reach and effectiveness of the existing business;
- Redefine the business model based upon the new information available without regard to how the business has been done in the past.
Lets briefly take a look at these two alternatives.
The first alternative is a must for every small business. Examples of what could be done are:
- Build customer database with emails to inform of new arrivals, specials, and promotions
- Create an online booking capability for appointments
- Have a website that presents product and service selection and pricing
- Do local promotions with GroupOn, coupons, and the like.
- Provide online information on services and products including online chat.
- Solicit feed back from customers on what they want, what they would like improved, etc.
- Monitor and respond to feedback on review sites such as Yelp.
The key is to remember that your current customer or your next customer, while local, will still be checking information on services and prices online to confirm their relationship with you or try another provider.
The second alternative is more involved but may be worth it for small businesses that are threatened by remote competitors :
- Review pricing of services and products against those available online to remain competitive.
- Adapt your website to add eCommerce capability and get support for online promotion and marketing.
- Identify a specialized niche in your product/service category and build a leadership reputation online (Wizard of Oz antique books for example, compared to being only another general book seller).
- Take a couple of days off and imagine you were just starting the business again and you wanted to target customers anywhere in the country you could reach via the Internet. How would you do things differently? How would you use your current strengths and experience?
The information available on the Internet, combined with inexpensive delivery by UPS, FedEx, and others, and online payments, has broadened the geographic customer base for a multitude of businesses and opened the door for new remote competition. This will not change, but rather only increase as the young customers comfortable with online purchasing continues to grow. Certain segments will be affected more than others. We will all still need to show up locally to have our hair cut.