Have you ever tried to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle? I have, and I’ve never been successful. When I read in New Scientist [https://bit.ly/2wF7qAv] that “Every standard 3x3x3 Rubik’s cube can be solved in a maximum of 20 moves from any starting position, no matter how scrambled” I thought they were joking. But, they had the math to back up their assertion. I suspect that I wasn’t motivated enough to figure out how it was done: the payoff (solving the puzzle) wasn’t worth the time involved to figure it out.
Not enough hours in the day
Many antique dealers find themselves in a similar position regarding selling online: They realize that they would sell more by doing so, but getting the job done is burdensome. Selling on eBay and similar marketplaces can be expensive and time consuming; sometimes, simply keeping up with rule changes can be a chore. Plus, running a shop and scouting for inventory can fill 10-12 hours a day; who has the time to maintain an online store?
Worse, if you sell from your own website, how do you drive enough traffic to your site to justify your time and expense? After all, most shoppers don’t browse past page one of Google results; 91% of web pages get no traffic at all from search engines [https://bit.ly/2J2PhUX]. Competing with Big eCommerce at their level requires an intimate knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO), ecommerce website building, social media, Google pay-per-click (PPC), and a hefty advertising budget. Virtually every ecommerce software company is focused on building you a website that does everything that the Big eCommerce websites do. For an antique dealer, such an effort is a waste of time and money. If you could do all those things, you could be pulling down “big bucks” working for a retail corporation. (Blasphemy!)
Use a 'flanking move'
The problem is that you can’t compete with Big eCommerce at their level. But, you can compete effectively by using a “flanking move.” The concept of marketing via a flanking move was first introduced by Al Reis and Jack Trout in their 1986 classic Marketing Warfare [https://amzn.to/2vtUKeu]. The book discusses marketing in terms of military battle tactics. To summarize the concept, making a headlong attack on a larger enemy is foolish; you can’t beat them by taking them on directly. David beat Goliath in the Bible, but in the business-world Goliath wins every time. Military tactics dictate that the best way to engage a larger, more powerful force is to attack from the side (their flank) because large forces concentrate their power in the front. In marketing terms, what must be done to flank Big eCommerce is to “attack” by doing something that larger competitors either won’t do or can’t do.
What you can do to beat big e-commerce
What is it that Big eCommerce companies can’t do that you can? Here are a few tactics that can give Mom & Pop stores and ecommerce sites an edge over big online sellers. These tactics will drive traffic to both online stores and brick-and-mortar stores.
Focus on selling local
1. Focus on your local market. Maintain a local presence in your community. Dealers (online and offline) can show that they are a member of their community by participating often wherever street vendors are allowed: fairs, festivals, fundraisers, pop-up shops, and other events. [https://bit.ly/2Mrt28S] Being seen builds trust, and lack of trust is still a major drawback when it comes to buying online. It’s important for potential customers to know that they can reach you if they have a question or problem. Also, at such events you can interact with crowds of people who never knew you existed, who may then follow you online.
2. Geo-locate your online products; let shoppers know that what they are searching for can be found locally. Savvy consumers will always search for a product using the name of a product and their local area; for example, “cameo necklace Atlanta Georgia.” In May 2017, Retail Dive published the results of their latest “buying path” survey. There were several notable findings:
“Sixty seven percent of consumers say they research products online — at least occasionally — before shopping for them in brick-and-mortar stores. What’s more, one in five shoppers (19%) say doing pre-shopping research on the web is a must ... These findings highlight the need for brands and retailers to have top-notch digital capabilities and content in place to ensure they’re providing all the relevant information consumers seek, such as detailed product descriptions, specifications, photos and use-states.”
Locals may find you online, but many will come to your store to buy. “Regardless of demographic, the biggest reason cited by those surveyed was the ability to see, feel and try out the item they were looking to purchase.” [https://bit.ly/2LYAJXK]
How do you geo-locate? Whenever you post a photo on a website, fill in the picture’s meta-data so shoppers will know exactly where the product is located (How-To Geek has a tutorial on how to do this: https://bit.ly/2lVmIg8) and link social media posts to your website. It’s not cost-effective for Big eCommerce sellers to geo-locate, so they don’t.
Develop your brand
3. Make your brick-and-mortar store and your online store part of the same buying experience. Cross-promote constantly; for example, use online coupons for store purchases, and store coupons for online purchases. What motivates online buying is convenience: shoppers can complete transactions online without leaving their home. However, an even stronger motivation for shoppers is immediate gratification; once a buying decision has been made, the customer wants the product now. Give your customers both options: convenience and instant gratification. Buyers will never get those choices on eBay.
What’s important to remember about building online traffic is that, ultimately, it’s about people, not technology. Big eCommerce sellers can’t interact with people on a face-to-face, personal level, and you can. In the 1980s, AT&T ran a series of television ads that encouraged people to (metaphorically) “reach out and touch someone.” Of course, in those days we paid for long-distance phone calls. But my point is that we dealers must reach out and touch people if we are going to build our online and/or offline businesses. We “reach out and touch” in our stores, at outside events, social media, and email. No matter what the “techies,” consultants, and software sellers say, traffic-building comes down to one-on-one relationships.