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5 Tips to Beat Online Sellers



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If you think you’ve got problems competing against online sellers—consider independent bookstores. Remember, that is where Amazon began its business and no surprise, because unlike pet food and other pet supplies books are non perishable and easy to store and to ship.

But, although the category has taken a big hit in the past two decades, some independent bookstores are still thriving. And according to a recent column by USA Today small business columnist Rhonda Abrams there are lessons in that category for all independent retailers on how to survive and thrive against online competition.

What you can’t do is pretend that e-commerce isn’t there or hope it is just going to go away. It isn’t.

The key is to play to your strengths—and a brick-and-mortar store has many. What has worked for booksellers in many ways will work for pet retailers too.

  1. Local is good. There is a growing trend towards shopping local—and for locally made goods. Consumers prefer to be able to shop locally and people also want to see their own downtown thriving and prefer to be loyal to local businesses. Show customers how much you are a part of making the community a success.
  2. What do you offer that online retailers don’t. The most obvious is that in your store they can touch and see merchandise. Give pride of place to toys, collars, clothes—anything that a customer will want to be able to pick up and touch.
  3. One of the keys to Starbucks enormous success is not the quality of the coffee drinks but the fact that they are places for people to meet and chat. Pet owners love to talk about their animals—it is something you should encourage in store.
  4. How much do you really know about pets? Hopefully a lot. You should be sharing that knowledge with your customers—whether it is about good nutrition or behavioral issues. The more they see you as a source of knowledge the more they will come to your store. Make sure you know the names of good trainers or walkers in your area that you can recommend. Whether or not it leads to an immediate sale it is likely to pay off down the line.
  5. Be a part of your community. Partner with local shelters or have your store involved in events in town. Partner with your suppliers too. This isn’t a one way street—even in the age of the smartphone most people are going to first find out about a new product when they happen upon it in your store. Suppliers need you and may well be able to help you with promotional events.

What you can’t do if you hope to survive is to rely on the same-old, same-old that has worked in the past. Keep up to date on what the online “enemy” is doing. Follow marketing trends in retail—what works for other categories may well have lessons in the pet business too. Don’t hide away in your store—know what’s going on in your community. Are there more and more retired people? An influx of millennials? New developments with a lot of school-age children? Keep your product offerings relevant to your customer base. What works in one town is not necessarily the secret to success in a neighboring community.

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