How independent retailers can thrive among the big-box stores

This one’s for the boutique brands, the Main Street mom-and-pops, the local chains built from the ground up. Independent retailers. They may not have the national visibility and sheer resources of mega-chains like Target and Wal-Mart, but that is often the key to their success. The best independent retailers offer truly unique products and experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. Last week, flexReceipts announced that we would be providing our technology to five independent retailers, including three clothing brands, a china manufacturer and a surf shop in Del Mar, California. By combining custom digital receipts with a comprehensive system of analytics, flexReceipts is ideal for independent retailers trying to carve out their niche. However, there are also many other steps a small retailer can take to compete with the big names.

Get to know your customers: One of the main appeals of the classic mom and pop store is a sense of friendliness. National corporations and chains, in contrast, are often seen as faceless and uncaring, treating customers as merely numbers toward the bottom line. With local reach and a much smaller pool of customers, it’s easy for independent retailers to offer a personalized customer experience, which often even means getting to know the regulars by name. This doesn’t mean you should forgo statistics and analytics. On the contrary, keeping track of things like shopping habits and demographics allow you to delve into exactly who your customers are and what they want. Email receipt programs are also a good way to capture an email address so you can create a consumer profile and start monitoring how your customers shop over time.

Social media is your friend: It’s the great equalizer. Any business, regardless of size, revenue or resources, can create a Facebook page or Twitter account for no cost. The key to success, of course, is in the execution.  Independent retailers should strive to frequently post content they know will engage their current and potential customers, and make an effort to respond to every single person who posts to their page or mentions their product. Social media should be an extension of the experience customers would find in-store or on the e-commerce website.

Tell your story: Everyone has one, but you don’t often hear about the ones from big-box retailers. The guy standing in line at Wal-Mart with a hundred other people probably doesn’t care about how the Waltons made their first billion. Independent retailers, on the other hand, have a chance to connect with their customers by letting them know how they got there and where they are going. In-store, in marketing and advertising, and on social media, the focus should not just be on the products or services, but on what makes your business unique and interesting. Doing so can make your customers feel that, buy patronizing your business, they are becoming part of something special.

Adapt to survive: Technology and consumer tastes are constantly changing. Lacking fallbacks like large-scale corporate backing and national brand recognition, independent retailers must adapt to these changes as quickly and efficiently as possible. Stay on top of the latest trends in your industry or field. Pay close attention to your customers buying habits. Adopt up-and-coming technology and social media early. Not only will this allow your business to survive, it could give you a crucial edge on competitors.