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Will "small business" have a place in our future?

Oct 27, 2016 11:33AM ● Published by Neighbors Magazines

by Scott Lebin

Today in the world of e-commerce we can document that the increase of sales has become an online phenomenon. Because of this change in a new sale modality, we have to ask, “What are the qualities that still thrive today in retail businesses for the purchase of merchandise in a small local store front setting?”

This question is very relevant as we have drastically changed our process for buying merchandise, clothes, and food to a delivery system that operates from computer orders to the delivery of items at our homes in twelve to twenty-four hours from the time of purchase. This process also allows for returns of merchandise not wanted by providing return shipping labels for many items with no questions asked about the reasons for the return.

Some buyers require seeing and touching items they wish to purchase, and for these people the adaptation to online shopping has not taken hold. However, the number of those resistant to purchasing online is decreasing. The positive online process can be understood by the key words: convenience, cost savings, stress reduction, safety, ease and vastly increased selection of items available.

The increase in online purchases forces us to examine the question asked, “Is the small local business going to be a profitable and viable business entity in the future? The advice and assistance from a local business retailer is often an added benefit to shopping locally. Merchants can immediately ask questions and guide consumers to the choices of merchandise that best fit a customer’s needs.

It is important to point out that online entities are trying to match such service by transmitting pictures, questioning needs, and providing service from the sale through the actual receiving and use of the products they sell. As an example, from many vendors an item can be ordered with the ability to send it back with a return label that the retailer sends with the shipment. If a customer returns the item, as soon as it is scanned in at the UPS or FED EX location, the item is credited back to a credit card before the company even receives the item into its inventory.

Today, many local retailers increase their service by creating a destination feel to the overall buying experience. They provide music, free snacks, comfortable chairs and sometimes entertainment to expand the WOW factor of product delivery. They also create a database of customer likes and dislikes so that the buying experience feels especially tailored to the individual. There is a relationship between the seller and the buyer that provides the buyer with a personal contact to help with buying decisions. Retail shops that provide this service become the core of a community in which all members gather for the social benefits of living in a thriving economics environment.

In the future small business owners will have to provide such a unique experience for their customers besides just selling a product. Hands-on demonstrations and product education will be some ways that small local businesses will be able to differentiate themselves from online buying experiences. Event-based activities for holiday experiences will help draw customers to these local stores in a way that cannot be achieved through e-commerce. Geneva’s Festival of the Vine and Christmas Walk are already involved in this local planning.

In addition, local businesses will have to be available when the customers choose to shop. If their hours are geared to what’s best for the retailer, they won’t be able to compete with a demographic that demands accessibility and convenience. They will have to remember that e-commerce is their competition and e-commerce is accessible 24 hours a day. Although we wouldn’t expect a local merchant to be open around-the-clock, it will be required that they make the most of the time the customer is available to shop. Only then will the retailer be able to engage the customer with the WOW experience. The small business merchant of the future will need to be creative, dynamic, clever and compelling.

The future of the small town with businesses that capture the buyer’s imagination and passion will provide a dynamic experience to our downtown shopping districts. Competition will challenge our “Main Street” downtown but ultimately it will make our local shopping experience even better than it is today.

Scott Lebin is a Registered Representative and Investment Adviser Representative of and Securities and Investment Advisory Services offered through Signator Investors, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC, and an SEC Registered Investment Adviser.

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