Consumers have more ways than ever before to spend their money. Unless you are an essential service or product, more than likely your small business is fighting for those dollars with both the players within your industry and the many alternative ways a consumer can spend them — and the competition is fierce! While consumers are often willing to spend a little extra time shopping small or craft, the reality is that small businesses cannot afford to ignore their customer’s buying journey if they want to compete in the Amazon-era that we are in. This became especially apparent to me recently when I decided to host our family’s traditional Thanksgiving get-together. I should also mention that I recently became a mom, and as many new parents do, the time I could spend tackling my shopping lists was precious and had to be as efficiently used as possible!

As an advocate for small businesses, I made it my mission to try and support as many small, local, craft purveyors as possible to put together my Thanksgiving feast. Because my time was limited and I would have a baby in tow any time I went out, I needed to be able to find information about options easily via my smartphone, preorder as much as possible, schedule pick-ups and keep in-person shopping limited. Here are some of the takeaways from my experience in shopping small this Thanksgiving that businesses might want to consider:

It starts by embracing a customer-centric mentality: You may have a great passion for your craft, but if your business is more about you than your customer, that’s a problem. Successful businesses put their customers first. They take the time to understand them and the problem they are trying to solve, build a product that solves it and makes sure that they communicate the availability of that product to them. They then make the evaluation and purchasing process as easy and pleasurable as possible. The process of evaluating this is called customer journey mapping and helps businesses identify areas where they can improve the customer experience, sell more or identify problem areas. Every business should do one, annually.

Marketing planning matters: Busy consumers need products and solutions brought to them. Make sure you have enough time built into your schedule to develop an effective plan for your marketing so that you are prepared with messaging, marketing channels identified and ready to go, and have the creative assets, photos or other materials ready when it is time to start generating sales.

Email and social media marketing works! Many of the small businesses I shopped this Thanksgiving would not have been on my radar if they hadn’t marketed to me via email or social media marketing. These companies worked hard to reach out to me and had compelling messages, offerings, photos and descriptions that enticed me to take the next step.

Don’t be passive in the sales process: Now that you have them to your website or in your store or restaurant, your job is to compel the customer to part with the dollars! So, how are you making sure you get the sale? Even better, add to the sale? What is your sales process? Are you thinking of complimentary products that could be add-ons to existing core purchases? Is your staff trained and incentivized to be effective salespeople for you? If you have e-commerce, is your website set up to offer additional suggestions to add on? Is your menu or merchandising compelling and strategically designed to upsell?

Make paying easy! Amazon is teaching consumers to expect one-click purchasing from their phone. So, as you evaluate your customer journey, pay special attention to what you are asking your customers to do at the time of transaction. This can be everything from integrating PayPal into your website or having contactless tap and pay point-of-sale solutions. This was by far the most low-hanging fruit of my holiday small business shopping experience and for at least one purveyor, their lack of PayPal integration into their website cost them a $100 order because I didn’t have access to my credit card at the time. Another purveyor that I ordered from online requested I come into the shop to pay in person between ordering and the time of pickup, less than ideal and could risk future business if someone found that too complex.

Follow up: Every small business I shopped with this Thanksgiving has my contact information, including email. I am hopeful each one will send me a follow-up communication thanking me for my business and offering me ways to shop with them for the upcoming holiday as it is far less expensive to sell to a recent existing customer than develop a new one!

Overall, my main takeaway is that consumers want to support small businesses and small business can be incredibly competitive in this era, but it requires work and planning on behalf of the small business. If you would like help in performing a customer journey mapping evaluation to improve your business, the Clatsop Small Business Development Center advising team is available to help.

Jessica Newhall is the associate director and Small Business Management Program manager for the Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center. She can be reached at jnewhall@clatsopcc.edu

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