Finding Main Street Customers Online

By encouraging and cultivating unique, local, independent commercial sectors, retail along Virginia’s Main Streets is on the rise. However, it is a brave new world that Main Streets retailers are operating in.

“Capitalism is creative destruction,” Richard Sylla stated in a recent Entrepreneur article. “Old models get outmoded, and new models come in and take over.”

Just as Main Street organizations must create effective fundraising plans to secure diversified and stable program funding, retailers must make every effort to diversify their customer base to ensure stable and growing revenue streams. The article in Entrepreneur states that the future of retail will have some online component and some offline component. Catering to consumers wherever they are,and in a robust, customized way, is a key growth strategy. Online sales accounted for 5.2 percent of total retail sales in the third quarter of 2012, according to the latest reading from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which tracks the category. That was up 17.3 percent from the same quarter a year earlier. By contrast, total retail sales over the period rose by only 4.6 percent.

Main Street Economic Restructuring committees should provide training to help their local Main Street retailers develop a balanced online/offline business strategy. For example, in January, Longwood SBDC guest speaker Marc Willson, retail consultant for Virginia SBDC, provided two free trainings for area retailers directly related to this topic. The first session, “Doing Business in a GAFA World,” GAFA stands for Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, was designed to help retailers attract more traffic and improve sales by smartly embracing relevant social media technologies and strategies. The second session, “Competing with the Big Boys,” reiterates that big box stores and national chains are strong competition for local, independent retailers and that these retailers need to have a strategy to keep their existing customers buying and to win new customers. More information about trainings provided by Marc Willson are available here.

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