Beyond Brick-and-Mortar: Alternative Ways to Generate Sales for Your Small Business

In the digital age, it is hard to talk about a brick-and-mortar store without a complementing web presence. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated this idea. As potential customers were no longer able to visit the in-person store, they turned to online shopping. Therefore, as a small-business owner, it is never a bad idea to make your products available for online retail. Of course, there are necessary steps to this. Forbes recommends creating a website for digital marketing and using a short, simple name for your domain, as well as investing in a virtual private server (VPS) website host. Finding a website host provider that is secure is also integral.

From there, you can generate revenue directly online. Years back, Business Insider quoted successful CEOs on their tips to creating alternative revenue streams. Amongst these was Anthony Saladino, the Co-Founder, and CEO of Kitchen Cabinet Kings, who recommended that retailers make ad space available on their website. This ensures constant revenue. He suggested using Google AdSense, which chooses relevant ads from a competitive online advertising network to appear, all by inputting a simple code to your website.

Online Marketplaces

There is also the possibility of benefitting from online marketplaces, like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, or Google Shopping.

Amazon

Amazon offers many educational options for small business owners, including webinars with names like “Amazon Small Business Academy” and “Start Selling with Amazon 101.” These webinars cover everything from pricing to navigating multichannel e-commerce. There is also Amazon’s Seller University, which is a free online library of informational articles and videos on how to sell on Amazon and how to establish an informative section for your product’s details.

Etsy

Etsy is another online marketplace that is on the rise, specializing in handmade and artisan products. Etsy offers educational resources like seller support via email or phone call by request, and the Etsy Success newsletter that is available through email. The website also provides customizable features for your online store, a notification system for interested merchants when your product comes back in stock, and the Sell on Etsy App, which you can download on mobile phone for efficiency in managing and editing your listings and speaking to interested customers.

eBay

Much like Amazon, eBay also provides educational resources for small business owners on how to navigate e-commerce. On their Seller Center, they have an online library providing tips for how to sell on eBay, create, manage, and promote listings, and ship efficiently. Under Small Business Central, eBay has its Seller School, which provides free videos, articles, and courses with both general access, for sellers with all types of experience, and advanced courses for established business owners. eBay also has a weekly podcast, a YouTube series, and a news bulletin via email that gives additional content on how to establish a small business online.

Google Shopping

Google Shopping offers features for small business owners’ success in Google for Retail. Google for Retail offers business owners the ability to connect with a digital product coach, where they can then create business solutions tailored to their brand. And of course, Google features can make it so that your mortar location will appear on Google Maps and your products will show as top results in Google searches. Additionally, Google for Retail provides analytical tools like audience, behavior, user flow, and acquisition reporting to enhance your understanding of your business and your customers. Google for Retail is analytically driven, as it also offers a website analysis that examines your business’s website and compares it to competing businesses’.

Other Online Marketplaces

There are also other online marketplaces, like Rakuten, Facebook Marketplace, Shopify, and recently, Walmart Marketplace, in which the Walmart corporation merged with Shopify to allow for small business owners to sync their Shopify products to also be sold on their e-commerce site. Walmart Marketplace offers you the ability to earn a Pro Seller Badge, notifying customers of the success of your business. It also grants business owners Walmart Fulfillment Services (WFS), which allow for these owners to store their inventory at a Walmart mortar store, so that shipping and returns can be handled by the large corporation.

Of course, it is important to remember that each of these marketplaces has rules that prohibit certain products from being sold, so it is worth your while to check the guidelines of each marketplace carefully. A personal favorite is Walmart Marketplace’s restrictions on Halloween paraphernalia, though, upon research, it is clear that these restrictions are only limiting Halloween costumes with offensive content. This makes reading the fine print just as important.

Social Media

Social media can also be vital to generating small business sales. Forbes debunks the myth that only big businesses profit off of social media, and lists other social media strategies for small businesses, like creating Snapchat filters with your product via the Snapchat Lens Studio app, or posting frequented stories to your Facebook and Instagram page (which should also have your website linked to it). By doing this, businesses can increase the likelihood of a merchant finding their website and therefore increase foot traffic. Online marketing can also come in the form of hired brand influencers, who can showcase your product or service to their followings.

Google for Retail even suggests that small businesses create YouTube videos to promote their product. Lean in to what you are good at—whether it be facing the camera or behind the scenes.

All in all, as a business, it is important to follow merchant trends, and the intense growth of e-commerce due to the COVID-19 pandemic is impossible to ignore and supported by statistics. Business Insider cites that there was a 42% growth from 2019 to 2020 in online sales, with a total of $844 billion merchant dollars spent online just between March 2020 and February 2021. The trend seems clear: e-commerce sales will continue to prevail, and Business Insider cites Adobe’s prediction that online sales for 2021 will be anywhere between $850 billion and $930 billion, with 2022’s online sales reaching the trillions.

And yet, as small business owners must adjust to this massive surge in e-commerce, the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions has also reinvigorated the appeal of the brick-and-mortar store experience. So, for businesses with mortar locations, omnichannel marketing is integral. Supplementing your traditional brick location with an online presence gives your business the ability to succeed both online and offline.

And yet, in order to revive your mortar store after the hurt of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may also have to get creative and practice some alternative strategies from your physical location. One of these strategies is curbside pickup. At the beginning of the pandemic, physical stores were offering curbside pickup for customers, and by the end of 2020, Forbes cited that 31% of Americans were using curbside pickup more after the pandemic began.

The same Forbes article offers tips on how to make storefront pickup appealing to merchants:

  • Use social media
  • Offer promotional deals to loyal customers
  • Use software that offers your workers the ability to see every order

Although the country no longer has strict COVID-19 restrictions (as there was in November 2020, when the article was written, pre-vaccination availabilities) there is still a benefit in transparency. Using a business mobile app or social media platforms, like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, small businesses can advertise what safety protocols are being taken to assure cleanliness.

Additionally, social media can be used for quick interactions with prospective or new customers: small business owners can provide updates on their retail store, clarifying details on the process and security of curbside pickup, or even inform the general public that curbside pickup is an option. And, in response, merchants can post about their curbside pickup experiences with your small business.  

By offering your regular customers promotional deals, you give them an obvious reason to continue shopping at your small business. Forbes encourages the use of personalized notes within your promotional offers via text or email that point to your honest thoughts on the future’s uncertainty. Again, this is an easy way to maintain that personal connection with your customers, despite physical barriers.

Lastly, Forbes suggests that small business staff managing curbside orders should be equipped with technology that allows them to see the items of every order, and organize orders by delivery or curbside pickup. The more specific each order information is, the easier it will be for the staff. For example, if it supplies the workers with information on the color and makes of the vehicle picking up, staff can manage curbside delivery much more smoothly. This also narrows any margin of error.

The aforementioned Business Insider’s article on successful CEO’s tips to accruing additional revenue also included other omnichannel marketing strategies apart from the internet and curbside pickup. Perhaps your internet presence is well established, and curbside orders are booming, but you are still hungry to grow your mortar business. Where do you turn to next?

The article quotes John Meyer, the Co-founder of 9 Clouds and CEO and Co-Founder of Lemonly, who suggested that small business owners with special skills should offer educational services for merchants. Meyer recommended charging for webinars and coaching services after hosting a workshop for free to establish trust with customers.

Derek Johnson, the CEO, and Founder of Tatango was quoted in the same article, also recommending that small business owners use their expertise to their advantage. He mentioned opportunities to speak, write, or consult as noteworthy options. Additionally, Heather Huhman, Founder and President of Come Recommended were quoted on how to capitalize on your skills, suggesting that small business owners can author their own publications to generate extra revenue.

Business Insider also mentioned Kent Healy’s, the author of The Uncommon Life, idea to keep an eye on the real estate market’s dips and use this as an opportunity to bid in trustee sales and purchase deeds of trust.

Keep in mind that a lot of these ideas require long-term planning. Don’t think of them as temporary solutions, but rather continual streams of income.

An article by the Harvard Business Review supports the idea of long-term planning, especially in times of economic crisis, just as we experienced at the start of 2020. As the article states, quick decisions are more likely to lead to financial mishaps, and while it may seem really tempting to do so if your small business has been hurting, it is always a good idea to research and even ask for the opinion of a trusted third party.

And as always, the success of the business lies in the hands of the merchants. Therefore, the same Harvard Business Review article suggests that business owners can tap into their customer base as a resource. If the people have a say, they can tell you exactly what they want, whether it be coaching services, curbside pickup, a navigable website, or a more extensive online presence. So, ask away.



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