The pandemic of 2020-21 was a massive economic blow for retail outlets around the world. Forced to close down for weeks, sometimes, months at a stretch, the brands that survived where those that pivoted drastically and moved sales onto online platforms.
People’s buying behaviours changed drastically. For months, many consumers were too scared or worried to return to normal shopping habits, believing that being in enclosed public spaces was too dangerous – particularly if they were classed as vulnerable people.
Smaller Independents Struggled As High Streets Shut Down
The shops that were at particular risk during the pandemic were the small independent shops – retailers that specialised in the quirky, the unusual, that focussed on unique and exclusive brands that had smaller, more specialised audiences. Some of these shops had spent years building up regular customers. Losing that ability to trade hit many hard.
While losing a physical focus was tough for many communities, and maintaining vibrant centres to build strong social activities and roots, in a business sense, being forced to focus on taking their businesses online gave these independents the time and opportunity to realise the potential reach of their businesses without the burden of the costs of a physical space.
Why Online Is So Much Better For Independents
There are no geographic limitations in reaching potential audiences. For retailers such as I Want That Present, potential customers can seek out and purchase their branded products whether they are in Stockton of Stockholm, Boston UK or Boston USA, Peterborough UK or Peterborough Canada. If your product range is particularly niche or specialised, then your reputation will soon grow internationally within those niche circles.
Most importantly, you will have none of the costs associated with running a physical business – rents, business rates, electricity, lighting, staff. The cost of running a shop on a high street has always traditionally been expensive, and has been a long time burden for many businesses who struggle with passing trade. Moving onto the online world has allowed many independent businesses to save thousands in operating costs, and reinvest that into their businesses.
More Control Over Marketing Analytics
Online marketing is increasing in sophistication and functionality on an almost daily basis. The ability to track a potential customer’s journey, from their first visit to your website, to the moment they click on the purchase button is recorded and analysed by a variety of online tools – the most advanced and important of which is Google. As Google Analytics is now moving into its next generation phase – GA4 – the information that you can gather is, quite frankly, mind blowing. The more information you have about your potential customers, the more you can hyper-target any marketing activity and spend. For smaller independent businesses this is very exciting, as marketing spend on social media can offer a far greater return on investment than more traditional advertising spend.
Being in a position whereby you have a greater control over the flow of visitors to your website exponentially increases the ‘leaving it to chance’ element of opening your doors in a near empty street and hoping that a few people might pass by and be interested enough to pop in.
Be Wary Of The Pitfalls
While the online world does offer incredible opportunities to independent businesses, it is important to be aware that the potential pitfalls, and mitigate for these accordingly.
These pitfalls include building and maintaining a website that can cope with the demands of ecommerce, ensuring that you have the capacity to fulfil the increasing numbers of orders that will come through, and ensuring that you comply with any export laws if you are selling products overseas.