We’ve all seen local stores close up shop. It’s a tragedy of our times; once flourishing family businesses that were the hub of the local community now forced into bankruptcy.
When this happens, there is almost always one culprit to blame: The Internet.
Online shopping has changed the way we as consumers choose to spend our money, and it has been felt at every corner of the economy.
I’ve seen how these changes have taken place first-hand. For 7 years I was the manager of the Magic Art Studio, one of the last traditional magic shops in the country. I saw how online shopping changed consumer spending for our local market, and I spoke with other magic shop managers, owners, and employees about how their businesses have been affected by this.
It’s clear that brick-and-mortar shops across all industries are failing and online shops are thriving. But the reason for this isn’t as straight-forward as saying “the internet is killing everything.”
The reason is that online stores are operating in 2020, and brick-and-mortar stores, for the most part, are operating in an older world.
Why are Brick-and-Mortar Shops Dying?
There’s no arguing that the good ‘ol mom-and-pop shops that we all love are closing up. Similarly, other establishments that made their bread and beans on foot traffic have closed up in recent years as well; movie theaters across the country have lost revenue and close up thanks to streaming services like Netflix.
But to say that the sole cause of all of these problems is the internet is to turn a blind eye to the real problem. Namely, the fact that it’s so hard to adapt to changing times.
The internet isn’t an abstract idea that exists solely to crush the little guy. It’s a tool that every person on earth with access to a connection can use.
Securing a Roof: An Analogy
Recently, I was renovating one of my houses. The house was built sometime in the late ’50s or early ’60s, and the roof was not as secure as roofs are today.
So I cut up a bunch of 2x4s and began securing them to the beams in the attic as added strength for the roof.
For this job, I used a nail gun. This got the whole project done in only a few hours, and the result was pretty good.
If I made the decision to use the traditional tools that have always been around and have always been useful, I would have used a hammer instead of a nail gun. After all, hammers have always been perfectly acceptable.
Securing the roof with that logic would have taken MUCH more time and energy. And the resulting job would not have been any better than with a nail gun.
The important thing to remember is that the job is what’s important. The tools I choose to use should be the ones that are most efficient in finishing the job.
Using the Wrong Tools
The tactics that many brick-and-mortar shops use have worked perfectly fine for decades. But that was before the advent of the internet, smartphones, social media, and the globalization of world economies.
These are the tools that businesses can use today. They are not your enemies, but friends and partners. These tool are what you can use to build up your brick-and-mortar business in 2020.
In my experience working with brick-and-mortar stores, owners have an apprehension towards these new tools. They think that sticking to their old ways will eventually bring their business out on top.
While they are right in some respects (many “old ways” have a lot of merit to them; and often, they still work well; all that needs to happen is they change their methods to achieve the same effect), clinging to what worked in a completely different wold will drive their shops into the ground.
How to Bring Your Shop Into 2020
If you’re the owner of a brick-and-mortar store that hasn’t adapted to the internet yet, you may be hesitating based solely on how intimidating it can be.
The internet is overwhelming with what it offers, and everyday it seems like there’s a new social media app that businesses “MUST” jump on if they wish to make a profit.
While it’s true that striving to be 100% successful at setting up your business online is an overwhelming undertaking that will require years of experience, you can get it 80% right with nearly no experience and money!
Determine what sites work best for your business
Just like how different businesses exist to cater different clients, so too do social media sites exist; the audience on LinkedIn is incredibly different from the users of TikTok.
Many businesses first set up their online presence with a Facebook page. It’s here on which they pitch their hopes and dreams of competing with the online world.
But starting a Facebook page without having any real understanding of where your audience sits on Facebook will lead you down an increasingly complex rabbit hole. It pays to do some research and determine if Facebook is right for your company.
The wonderful thing about Facebook is that it’s a catch-all for literally everyone from kids to their great-grandparents. Practically everyone from practically every walk of life has a Facebook account, which means they are within your reach if you have one as well.
Facebook’s younger brother is Instagram, and that has gotten considerable attention over the years. Many companies now have accepted that Instagram is important and are now moving to have company pages.
The photo sharing platform is most common among younger people, with 71% of it’s 1 billion users being under the age of 35. The average time one of these users spends on the app is about 53 minutes each day.
When a company makes the move to join Instagram, it is often more thought-out than Facebook. Whereas Facebook is the definition of “getting on the internet” for many businesses, Instagram takes a step towards a more defined niche.
Of course, if that niche isn’t who you’re trying to target, then you’d do best to stay as far away as possible.
LinkedIn has turned itself from a site that focused strictly on matching people with jobs into a world leader in professional networking. Ever been to a networking event at a bar? LinkedIn is like that but with the comforts of your couch.
50% of Americans with a college degree are on LinkedIn, with 2 more being added every second. If this sounds like the target market for your business, you may consider setting up a company page on LinkedIn.
Snapchat is popular with Gen Z and young Millennials. 90% of Snapchat users are between the ages of 13 and 24.
The app has revolutionized social media with the use of “stories,” videos and pictures that disappear after 24 hours.
Stories are for, well, telling stories. Masterful marketers use stories to craft a narrative for their audiences. This could be what a “day in the life” looks like, or how products are created, or just simple meanderings through daily business.
An often overlooked social media site — mostly because it’s so popular and offers different kinds of content than traditional sites — is YouTube. YouTube has an estimated 2 billion monthly users, and I’m willing to bet that you’re one of them.
Companies use YouTube to demonstrate products, introduce new ones, introduce customers to the team working behind-the-scenes, and countless other topics.
Acting Instead of Complaining
What I’ve outlined above is a *very* brief overview of how businesses can create an online presence. They are all free and will only use a little of your time.
The real work comes in using your online tools. Post as often as you can! The quality of the content is important, but don’t overthink it. Overthinking every Instagram post to the point where you post nothing will do you no good.
The biggest thing you can do is to actually take action. A lack of action is one of the worst problems your business can have, and is far worse than internet competition.
Don’t Compete with Online
When there is another business taking your customers away, it’s easy to say that you want to to compete with them. That’s how business works after all, right?
But, for a moment, imagine if you didn’t compete with online businesses.
Think about it. Amazon can offer the same products as you at a much lower price; it can also offer a much more diverse array of products than you will ever be able to. There’s NO WAY you will be able to compete with Amazon!
So don’t try. You’ll burn yourself out and build resentment towards new technology.
Instead of competing with online retailers, focus on offering consumers things that online stores like Amazon can never.
This could be the experience of physically visiting and shopping in your store; it could be the community that gathers in your shot to discuss the trade or just shoot the breeze; it could be the central role your store plays in the local community, like funding plays and hosting giveaways.
The unique experience of shopping with your brand is something that Amazon can’t replicate or undercut. All you need to do is define what those unique aspects are and invest in them. Make those things the core of your business! Then people won’t care if they have to spend an extra $3 on one of your products.
Price and convenience aren’t the only things consumers care about. If you try to beat the online competition in these fields, you’ll lose. There’s no question about it.
Become the local business that everyone in your area wants to do business with not because of your prices, but because you offer them something no other business in the world can!
Don’t focus just on the money. There are plenty of other things consumers value. The money will follow.
The sad reality that so many small businesses are faced with is actually no reality at all, but a failure to see the playing field for what it is.
The internet is not the ruin of so many businesses. Instead, it’s a tool that countless businesses have used to make unimaginable renovations and improvements, while countless more businesses have rejected the internet for tools that worked 50 years ago.
It’s these latter businesses that are suffering.
The good news is that the internet is accessible to all, and you don’t need a lot of money and experience to give your business an online presence.
Using this article as an initial guide, you can set your business up on social media platforms to begin drawing in new clients and engaging with existing ones.
But the number one way to keep your business alive in the digital age is to define exactly what makes it unique, and focus on that. If it’s price, you may be in for an uphill fight. But if your shop gives your customers an incredible in-person experience — as an example; it could be anything — then you have something that Amazon doesn’t!
The internet is a tool. Use it to promote your unique brand.