Having a big name retailer move in on your turf can be quite daunting. Retail giants not only carry the name recognition that draws huge crowds, but they also have resources and connections to drive down prices and offer tremendous deals.
However, just because you’re not as big as Target or H&M doesn’t mean you can’t hold your own against the Goliaths in your industry. In the following paragraphs, we’ll talk about some of the steps you can take when a big name retailer moves into town. If you’re facing the dilemma of going up against larger competitors, the steps below should give ideas on how to compete.
Identify chinks in your competitor’s armor
Even the biggest companies have their weaknesses. If you’re facing a huge competitor, your job is to figure out the chinks in their armor and use them to your advantage.
You can start by looking for weaknesses in their merchandise. For example, while big box stores such as Target or Wal-Mart can offer wide selections and low prices, these types of retailers can’t focus in a particular niche, so when it comes to offering deeper and more specialized products, they can’t always deliver.
This is where you come in.
Let’s say you’re a supplements store catering to fitness enthusiasts. As a merchant specializing in supplements, you likely have products that a general big box store doesn’t carry. You can highlight this fact in your marketing and use it to draw in customers who can’t find what they’re looking for at competing stores.
Or let’s say you’re an apparel store going head to head with fast fashion retailers such as H&M or Zara. You could recognize that while these stores can release new styles at record speed and sell them at extremely low prices, the quality of their merchandise may not be as high as the ones sold in traditional fashion boutiques. Another weakness could be that their product sourcing and manufacturing practices may not be as ethical as yours.
Many fashion retailers are using these things to their advantage by emphasizing the quality of their merchandise and by being transparent with how their products are made. See if you can do the same thing in your business.
These are just a few examples of big retail weaknesses that you can use to your advantage. Whatever type of business you have and whoever your competitors are, be sure to do thorough research on them so you can zero in on their shortcomings and capitalize on them.
Retailers with hundreds of locations and thousands of employees can’t get up close and personal with customers the way SMBs can. It’s easier for you and your staff to get familiar with shoppers, because you have more face-to-face and quality with them. Again, be sure to use this to your advantage.
Here are a few things you can do:
Provide personal assistance and offer tailored advice
Make customers feel special by offering tailored assistance and recommendations when they’re in your store. If they’re looking for a particular item, take the time to figure out their needs so you can assist them further. Do they need advice? Factor in the information that you already know about them (based on previous interactions or your CRM data) in order to provide more relevant recommendations.
Send hand-written notes
Handwritten notes go a long way, especially in an age where people communicate mainly through digital channels. Why not send a holiday or birthday card to your best customers? Or better yet, throw in a handwritten note when someone orders through your website.
Check out what T-We Tea, a San Francisco-based tea retailer, is doing. I placed an order through their website, and to my surprise (and delight), I saw a handwritten note included in the package.
Give them a heads up when a product they like goes in stock
Reach out to customers with a when a product that they like hits your store. Doing so will not only encourage them to swing by, it’ll also make them feel special and valued, especially if your message is personal and relevant.
For example, UK-based apparel store Bal Harbour Boutique sends customers text messages about new items that they might appreciate. “We know the taste of our customers and text them when something comes into the store that we think they’ll like,” shares owner Dena Stemmer.
However, she cautions retailers not to overdo this. You don’t want to come off as too pushy. According to Dena, when they’re deciding if they should text a customer, they ask themselves, “If I were their friend out shopping, would I message them about this top?”
Highlight the fact that you’re local
Many consumers are more than happy to support local businesses, so if you’re a homegrown retailer, be sure to highlight this fact especially if you’re competing with worldwide retail giant.
Consider what Glassons did when Topshop opened a new location in Auckland, NZ. Glassons, which has roots in New Zealand and Australia, put up window signs highlighting the fact that it’s an NZ company.
Improve your loyalty initiatives
One of the best ways to get customers to stick around (despite the presence of larger competitors) is by establishing a compelling loyalty program. Reward customers for shopping with you and keep giving them reasons to come back.
It’s important to note though, that awesome loyalty programs aren’t just about rewards. As more and more merchants get into the loyalty game, you need to implement certain strategies to make your program stand out.
Here are a few suggestions:
Surprise your loyal customers
Go beyond the usual perks and rewards by incorporating the element of surprise into your loyalty programs. Giving members perks or goodies when they least expect it is a surefire way to make a lasting impression.
Consider the tale of Brad Handler, chairman of Inspirato, who talked about how an airline gave him and his family a surprise upgrade to first class back when he was a 10th grader. The upgrade, he wrote, was “unexpected and appreciated” and it made such a huge impression on him that he continues to talk about his experience decades after it happened.
“Had we not been upgraded, the connecting flight to Orlando would have been exactly as I anticipated and instantly forgotten. Instead, I remember it 30 years later.”
Make earning and redeeming rewards easy and convenient
Consumers want shopping to be fun and convenient, and having them jump through hoops just so they can earn or redeem rewards gets in the way of that.
A common example of loyalty program “hoop” is the old fashioned reward card. Requiring customers to carry around physical cards can serve as a barrier that prevents them from fully enjoying your rewards program.
That’s why more and more retailers are turning to more modern solutions such as POS-based or mobile-based loyalty programs to make the process more convenient.
Rockets & Rascals, a bike shop in England, is a great example of a retailer using a POS-based loyalty program. They use Vend’s built-in loyalty features so they can enroll members, track rewards, and offer perks right from the POS itself—no physical cards required.
The practice has proven to be boon for the business, as Rockets & Rascals often encounters customers who don’t have their wallets on them. “It’s a wonderful life saver for a cold, wet cyclist that’s come in without their wallet,” says Steve Toze, marketing director at Rockets & Rascals.
Reward customers for actions beyond purchases
Don’t limit your rewards to purchases. Consider offering perks for non-purchase related actions such as social media check-ins. In addition to encouraging engagement and goodwill with your customers, it also helps drive word-of-mouth.
Continuously market your loyalty program
When a big name retailer comes into the picture, marketing your loyalty program becomes more important than ever, as you need to stay top of mind, and keep reminding customers to swing by your store.
Make it a point to keep in touch with your loyalty program members. Touch base with them regularly and remind them about the rewards they can earn and redeem.
Level the playing field with technology
Gone are the days when sophisticated technology and solutions were reserved for the big guys. These days, small and medium retailers can easily arm themselves with tools that can help them compete with the Goliaths in their industry.
As Russ Harty, SVP Key Accounts & Partner Channel at Merchant Warehouse wrote in RetailSolutionsOnline.com, “with the advent of consumerized countertop technology, such as tablet POS systems and user-friendly business intelligence apps, it has become both affordable and attainable for SMBs to benefit from the same kind of technology as big-box merchants.”
Indeed, thanks to affordable and scalable cloud-based solutions, retailers of any size can now get their hands on sleek POS systems, advanced inventory tools, and sophisticated reporting analytics.
That’s why if you haven’t done so yet, go through the tools and solutions that you’re using and see if any of them are due for an upgrade. Are you still using systems that are hindering you from keeping up with your competitors? If you answered yes, then it’s high time to explore new solutions that’ll help you run a better operation.
Your turn. Have you ever had to go up against a big name retailer in your area? How were you able to compete? Leave a comment and let us know.
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.