Every year more people purchase directly online. This probably seems somewhat obvious to small business owners and is most likely the experience in your daily life (darn you Amazon Prime). While this trend may worry small business store fronts, the truth is there are many healthy business locations across the country and a majority of people still prefer purchasing in physical stores. 

However, in today’s marketplace, the number one factor that small businesses need to understand is the amount of shopping behavior that begins online. One 2018 report indicates that a whopping 87% of customer shopping begins with online search.* Put simply, if you aren’t marketing your small business online, and standing out, then you may only be reaching 10% of customers who don’t know you yet.  

The Importance of Reaching Your Audience Online

Every person who searches online for products and services is not only a potential customer, but a likely customer, especially if they are local. Who we are talking about are people who at this very moment are actively searching for products and services that you’re selling. They are looking for locations like yours and have actually taken time out of their lives to learn more about products and services like yours. 

But wait, that’s just people poking around and browsing online, right?  

Nope, those are buyers. 

According to Think With Google, the market research arm of the online search giant, 75% of local mobile shopping searches result in visits to nearby locations in just 24 hours. That’s 3 out of 4 people in your surrounding area who go online, search for something and end up visiting a location near you in less than a day.  

Here’s another one. In just the past two years, Google reports that searches that end in “near me”, as in “insurances reps near me”, are up 900%. So not only are those online searchers buying, every year there’s a lot more people who are shopping this way. 

That’s why it is so important to market your small business online. 

Sale Cycle Changes for Small Business 

It used to be that a sale was made by word of mouth. And no one can completely discount the value of referrals, word of mouth, etc. But it is important to recognize some of these monumental changes in the path to purchase happening all around you right now. This isn’t the 90s. It’s not even the 2000s. Things are changing for small businesses and it all starts with how people are shopping today. 

This is the nuts and bolts of effective selling – knowing where potential customers are and putting your best foot forward at the precise moment shoppers are forming their selection criteria. That may sound like marketing jargon, but it’s how it works folks.  

Wait, you lost me. Selection criteria? The what now? 

To illustrate “selection criteria” and the importance of putting your best foot forward at this precise moment, let’s consider toothbrushes and used cars.

Toothbrushes are an inexpensive commodity and everyone knows what one is (you’ve heard of them, right?). Plus, everyone knows where to buy one. You probably even have a picture in your mind of the toothbrush aisle at your local store. So in this case, the selling of the toothbrush starts at the store, standing in the aisle. Now imagine, the toothbrush aisle, what do you see? A bunch of rectangular shaped, plain, white boxes that say toothbrush on the side? Nope. You see sleekly shaped plastic clear containers with an array of colors and cool brand packaging. 

Why? Because that precise moment is when a person selects a toothbrush. You don’t buy a toothbrush before you get to that aisle. You don’t research toothbrushes. You don’t try to figure out where to get a toothbrush. You decide what you are buying right there and if a particular toothbrush doesn’t look great at that very moment, it isn’t going to be bought. For toothbrushes, being in the “selection criteria” is simply being on the shelf and then putting your best foot forward with whacky, colorful packaging at that moment. That’s the winning formula.

At the other end of the spectrum is used cars. And there’s an important lesson to be learned here. You see it’s rare that someone sees one used car, says “I’m sold” and heads to the financing office. In this case, it is about browsing. Looking around. Mulling it over. And it used to be that people did this by heading over to the street corner, grabbing a circular and imagining what they’d look like behind the wheel of a grainy black and white photo. But then someone had the bright idea of putting color photos online and putting lots of them. And now you don’t see many cars sold through circulars. This changed rapidly in this industry and it’s because browsing used cars is such a big part of the customer forming his or her “selection criteria”. When it comes to used cars, this is the precise moment they have to put their best foot forward – 20+ hi-def photos of every angle of the used car. For this industry, that’s the winning formula.

In Conclusion

For most business-to-consumer small businesses selling products or services, statistics will tell you that your audience is online before they buy. They do a quick search. Get an idea of who offers what. What looks good to them. This is where they are forming their decisions of who they’re going to call or whom they are going to visit. And the number of people who are shopping this way is only going up year after year after year. For most business owners selling products and services, the decision-making process is somewhere between the extremes of toothbrushes (not going to research) and used cars (going to browse and browse). Typically, customers today are going online, trying to find out what they can on page 1 of their mobile phone and making a decision. This isn’t opinion, the afore mentioned facts paint a compelling picture that this is what people are doing. 

This is precisely why, if you are a small business not online, and standing out, you most likely are going to miss new customer sales. You’ve got your base, but most growth is currently about appearing online as buyers consider options. Things are changing rapidly and luckily, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get yourself in a decent spot online. Cover the bases on Google maps, Yelp, Google my business, etc is relatively painless and there are low cost options that provide this service. SEO and SEM can cost more to maintain, but there are many options to consider. In today’s marketplace, your store front, customer-service and all things in store still hold value, but it is important to understand for the vast majority of your buying audience, this is not where the decision to buy is made. 

That place is online.

cSocially is a digital marketing firm that has been helping small business owners stand out online across the country (and internationally). Starting packages to get you up and running start at just $2,500 per month. Find out more at cSocially.com.

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