Can Local Businesses Compete in the Digital Age?

Deepak Chopra once said, “All great changes are preceded by chaos.” When we look at our local communities and businesses, this quote certainly rings true.  While change is the only constant in our world today, one can’t help but believe we are on the precipice of even greater change.

Before we get into a few “must do” digital items, let me stress the most critical single element.  Now is the time local businesses must build or upgrade their websites without hesitation.  Many businesses have been forced to shut their doors over the past few years, don’t be another tragedy that could have been avoided. Don’t let precious time go to waste. View this time as a gift, be pro-active, and seize this opportunity. Here are some simple things local businesses can do to seize this opportunity and become more relevant.

First, don’t fall for the hype everything is being done online.  Prior to COVID, over 90% of retail was transacted within the walls of brick and mortar.  The past couple years have acerated the online shopping trend, but still more than 75% (and growing again) of all commerce is still transacted in retail locations.  Don’t be fooled, there is still a significant shift afoot towards digital purchases and the current trends will continue. Know the patterns in your area and alter course as appropriate to assure better store traffic and results.

Secondly, assure consumers can find you both physically and digitally.  Make sure you are active on social media, and everyone knows your operating hours. Check to see how your listing shows on Google Maps. When people drive or walk by, it is imperative your windows and facade are inviting.  The front of your store are the eyes into the soul of your business; be sure it is attractive.  How does your store show up in the digital search word world?  Google a few of your key products or services and see where your business shows up or how far down the list you must scroll to find them.

Thirdly, when online, be consistent and respond to all e-mails and social media contacts quickly. Once you have your social media presence, check it several times each day. While we are discussing online, to avoid stagnation, be sure to rotate pictures and the visual appearance often – after all, pictures are worth a thousand words.

Fourth, and maybe most important, is customer service. Good customer experiences equate to return visits from locals and provides great word of mouth from tourists and/or visitors. In addition to over-the-top customer service, make sure the inside of the business is warm and inviting.  Are shoppers able to easily find what they might be looking for? Make sure it is easy to get around the store; cluttered aisles are one of the biggest detriments to pleasant shopping experiences.  Remember, uniqueness provides ambiance that attracts repeat customers.

Fifth, you must seek for ways to communicate beyond your customer’s visit. Utilize in-store and digital promotions, drawings, contests, raffles, and games. You will be amazed how many people drop their business card into a box for a chance of winning something, regardless of how small a winning gift or prize may be.  If you are a restaurant, have a method to entice customers back.  It’s amazing how easy and effective a simple punch card can be at drawing diners to return repeatedly.

Always think multiple visits.  Few businesses can survive with their customers visiting their location once. The most successful businesses rely upon their customers frequently returning.  Repeat customers ultimately determine whether a business has the sustainability needed to survive over the long haul.  There are so many inexpensive digital tools making this possible, there is no excuse for not being up to date in this marketing arena.

Start with e-mail marketing through newsletters or e-blast immediately. While email is only one way to communicate, it is still one of the most effective ways to reach those brand or business loyalist. While I would view social media as a necessary evil, utilize it where you have large communities of people residing in your target area.  Many media companies have great tools such as contests, surveys, promotional software to get you started.  There is no simple solution or one size fits all.  The passive will die or go out of business, be aggressive when promoting or marketing your business is a must.

John Newby is a nationally recognized Publisher, Community, Chamber, Business & Media strategic consultant & speaker. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column runs 60+ communities around the country. The founder of Truly-Local, he assists communities, their businesses and local media to build synergies, thus creating more vibrant communities. He can be reached at:

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