The benefits of an online storefront are established by now. Customers are increasingly choosing to browse inventory online (at off-hours) allowing everyone from mom-and-pop stores to major chain retailers to build a stronger relationship with the people considering handing over their money. Your catalogue, or menu, can be the leg up over your competition if consumers can access it easily, whenever and however THEY choose.

Empower them, enrich you.

But what about those who have flexible services, create unique products, or need to create a per-job quote? Owners/managers of these businesses are sometimes confused as to how online presence benefits them.

Professionals like hairdressers, plumbers, consultants, cake makers, contractors, dressmakers, landscapers, dentists, shippers, artists, mechanics, caterers, and lawyers.

Too many never make the digital step thinking that they don’t have much to say online.

But the reality of the modern market is that even without listing service A for price A, you have a huge opportunity to get to potential customers while they are in the discovery part of the purchase process. It’s done by making sure that your services are (1) discoverable, and (2) peer reviewed.

discovery

(1) Being more discoverable was sometimes painful to retailers in the past. Discovery was forced on customers, expensive and had to be outsourced… advertising. Really, advertising was your best option aside from physical discovery in-store, and word-of-mouth. Retailers stuck to “location, location, location” for putting their products physically in front of faces, and then providing good service to up word-of-mouth.

Things have changed for a significant portion of your market. Instead of discovery being forced on customers, they are seeking it out.

Real product research is going on before more and more customers buy just about anything! Reviews are checked on products ranging from conditioner to piano instructor.

Retailers that provide product/service information across multiple platforms, physical AND digital, are the ones most likely to land the sales.

“Location, location, location” is actually still a perfectly applicable mantra for having great online presence, ask yourself, “Where am I located online?” Then see that optimised online location = search engine optimisation. How easily are you found in a search? The more easily found, the better ‘located’ you are.

peer-review

(2) Peer review is important for all businesses, but vitally important for those with unique products or services. While reviews of mass produced items are available all over the internet (iPads, Huffy bicycles, Ray-Ban sunglasses), reviews of your business will only exist on your profile or site. Turn your happy customers into your most valuable resource, have them advocate your services to others.

Virtual word of mouth cannot be underestimated at this point. Even a lukewarm, or negative review can be better than no reviews at all, many F1RST users report suspicion of ‘dead’ profiles, unless they are already familiar with the business. But if a user has never heard of a business, reviews build trust, making it much likelier that the user will (a) continue browsing, and (b) convert to making a physical visit.

In the Caribbean there already exists a very strong culture of peer review.

West Indians contact their parents, best friends, and coworkers for advice on purchases regularly. For them, there has been a unique combination of widespread use of online reviews (especially for the under 35 demographic) and direct reviews.

Within each island, there are 2 degrees (or less) of separation, so for more serious purchases (engagement ring, real estate agent, vehicle) potential customers are often able to contact reviewers directly to get more in-depth information on their experience.

West Indians are also attuned to the legitimacy of reviews and reviewers. They appreciate reviews, but do not trust every single one. For example, a movie reviewed badly may encourage a teenage boy to see it, if the reviewer uses the same language that his grandmother uses.

If you are one of the business operators who view the whole “getting online thing” as a hassle, it’s time for a reality check. At this time in the Caribbean you can gain a leg up on the competition by offering information online. Do what they won’t, it’s their loss.

Remember, you build a relationship when you provide service, and what you provide online is a service. It’s another way of gaining the trust of potential customers so that their purchase moment is at your cash register.

what_to_do

 

  • You can consider a website but start with social media. Relevant for the Caribbean right now: Facebook, F1RST, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitter (weakest). Etsy for those who hand-make items.
  • Fill your profile with rich information that a potential customer might possibly appreciate. Payment information. Hours of operation. Everything. Let customers do their research when, and how it’s convenient to them. Provide your phone number, physical address (if you have one), email, etc through your digital channel(s) to give them as much choice as possible for getting further information. Often customers combine research methods, depending on the time of day, where they are, and how they feel. Some will want to call and verify a detail, many will check a store’s profile while inside a store.
  • While you may not be savvy yet, keep your profiles updated! You probably maintain the tools of your trade, maintain your profile with the same priority, it is a tool. Don’t just keep a profile up-to-date, keep it up-to-hour.
  • Pictures are worth way more than words. Take pictures, post pictures. Especially if you create unique items (like wedding cakes). Yes, you will have to put more effort into updating your catalogue than those with more standard inventory, but it’s well worth it.
  • Pay attention to the platforms where you can post your services visually along with the price. F1RST.com has a catalogue feature that gives rich information for potential customers and allows each individual service to be reviewed. Much more effective than a review of you on the whole.
  • Let customers know you are on these platforms, and milk your opportunities for reviews. Really. Mention to customers that you would appreciate a review. Include the call-to-action in signage, social media statuses, on business cards and in email signatures.
  • Let reviewers know you appreciate them, even reward them when appropriate.

Is your business a more traditional brick-and-mortar establishment? See our blog that discusses how showrooming and webrooming can really work in your favour.

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