QUESTION: With all the changes in technology and the way customers are gravitating to online sellers, how can a small retailer hope to compete?

ANSWER: This is a question I frequently get so allow me to update an article I wrote on the same subject several years ago.

The old saying “The only certainties in this world are death and taxes” should include one additional item… change. People who cling to that which is comfortable and familiar will soon find themselves behind the curve.

While it is important to identify and play to your strengths, it is equally important to be aware of trends that will change the environment in which you do business. Ron Consolino, a SCORE associate from Houston, suggests you start by focusing on four areas:

Talk to your customers: What is the competition forcing them to do, and how can you modify your product or service to better accommodate their needs. If online shopping makes their experience easier, perhaps you should develop similar capabilities.

Talk to your suppliers: Just as your customers are requiring changes to your business model, you should challenge your suppliers to find ways to reduce their prices, offer more favorable payment terms and improve their delivery times. Discuss ways they can make changes to their products or services that will enable you to better meet your customers’ needs.

Talk to your employees: They are the ones who interact with customers on a regular basis.

Train them to be good listeners and to promptly communicate and remedy clients’ suggestions and complaints. They are the face of your business and should be rewarded for being proactive.

Be aware of your competition: It’s getting tougher to compete with the big-box stores and online sellers. Offer loyalty programs to encourage repeat business, free shipping, and a money-back guarantee if not totally satisfied.

Above all, strive to develop a personal relationship with your customers. Make the shopping experience so satisfying they will choose you over the small savings they may receive elsewhere. Believe it or not, there are still people who appreciate the personal touch and are willing to pay a little more for it.

Advances in technology will continue. It is your job to keep up with and use these resources to capture and analyze data about customer needs, and how they can better use your products or services.


Gray Poehler is a volunteer with SCORE Naples. Business counseling on this and other business matters is available, without charge, from the Naples Chapter of SCORE. Call (239) 430-0081 or visit .The SCORE business office is located at 900 Goodlette Road North, in the Fifth Third branch bank building. Office hours are 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday.