Conquer Local Roundtable: How to keep your personal touch when selling online

In this new series, we sit down with Vendasta’s executive team and interview them on current issues facing agencies and enterprises.

Our panel includes: CEO and co-founder Brendan King, CMO and co-founder Jeff Tomlin, CTO Dale Hopkins, CSO Jacqueline Cook, EVP of Marketplace Ed O’Keefe, EVP of Product Gib Olander, EVP Jeff Folckemer, VP of Product Design Bryan Larson, VP of People Operations Jean Parchewsky, and VP of Demand Generation Devon Hennig, who moderated the discussion.

While it’s been consistently gathering steam for over a decade, these last few months have massively accelerated the global transition to ecommerce.

Inspired by this growth, we sat down with Vendasta’s C-suite to chat about their first experiences with ecommerce, the struggles and success stories they’ve witnessed in these last few months, and any tips they’d give for moving forward into a more ecommerce-based future. In this post, we talk about how businesses can make sure their customer experience isn't compromised by the transition to online business. Watch the entire video or read about the best tips and characteristics for moving online successfully.

How can small businesses maintain their personal touch when switching to ecommerce?

1. Don’t ghost your customers

Jacqueline Cook: A lot of small businesses need to be reminded and reassured that they already have a trusted brand. They've built trust in the services and the goods that they provide, and they don't have to prove anything anymore. So whether their goods or services are delivered through a digital experience is beside the point.

But on the consumer side, I think nothing is more heartbreaking than going to a business that you love, trust, and that you would spend a lot of money at, and there's just nothing. There's no information online or anywhere.

Our team did a little exercise where the leadership had a little bit of money to spend and we had to go support local businesses. The common theme from that activity was that there was just no information. We keep talking about ecommerce, and yeah, ecommerce is important, but even before that step, there was no sign on the door. There was nothing updated on their Facebook page. There were no Google hours of operation updated. There was no website updated. There's so many things before the purchase with which small businesses are just leaving their customers out to dry. If they only knew how many customers were trying to shop at their stores, maybe they'd do something.


2. User test your customer experience

Jacqueline Cook: I think one of the simplest, easiest, free ways a business can just kind of wrap their head around the new times we live in, is just to walk through their customers’ shoes. But they shouldn’t do it themselves, because they have all these biases about how to operate and navigate their business. Grab someone that's unfamiliar with your business and have them try to make a purchase. Have them go through the experience and watch how they do it. Like Bryan has said, I think everything is a service-based business now. Whether you sell a physical good or not, everything is actually about service and experience now. And that's how you're going to compete in the years to come.

Dale Hopkins: In software, a lot of our time is spent on user testing because we're building novel experiences, but I would actually say that that’s something a local business very rarely thinks about. They just think people walk in the store and they buy stuff. You don't need to user test something.

But, using the example of the Bike Doctor, we bought a bike there for my daughter. One of those little ride-on things that attaches to the bike. And so you go ahead, you buy it online and then you show up at the store and they say, ‘Oh, you know what, we'd actually like to take it out of the box, set it all up, make sure it's got all the parts, and everything else like this.’ To which I thought, ‘I ordered this two days ago. Why are you only doing this now when I showed up to the store?’

See, this is why I want the local touch. I want the guys to actually verify that this is installed correctly. But somebody didn't bother to think through the whole purchase, install, and verify process. In an online world, you should start that the minute I buy it, not the minute I come into the store. And so user testing the whole experience is kind of important because I'm buying local for a good reason, but then when the owners haven’t thought through the buyers’ experience, that kind of messes it up. My Thursday bike ride was ruined.


3. Seize the opportunity for more frequent contact with customers who have more free time

Ed O’Keefe: You know what? I’m finding we’re actually developing a closer relationship than ever before with some small businesses. One local example is a TaeKwonDo school that my daughter goes to. As soon as this thing hit, they started doing online classes and their attendance of the classes increased. There were more of them on the screen, there were more of them interacting, they were paying attention to the class even more, and there really was not a personal touch lost. These kids adapted like that. And even the older adults that are getting into the martial arts, they adapted fast.

What happened was that the frequency of contact increased. Instead of driving to go to the Dojo, seeing it for two hours and then disappearing for four days, it turned out to be nightly for an hour, every single night. So with this new frequency, they're closer than they ever have been. Some yoga instructors are finding this too.


4.You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just get creative to make it safe.

Jacqueline Cook: One local store did something that I thought was really fascinating. Maybe this is just common around the world, but they've cut up their store into 15 minute increments, and then each customer can have the whole store for 15 minutes, which they can book online or by phone. So the experience is actually the same, it's just being offered in a safe way. They haven't actually taken all their inventory online and brought it to their customers, they've brought their customers back to the store safely. I thought that was really neat.

Jean Parchewsky: There's another shoe store in Saskatoon that is on Instagram posting pictures of their inventory. So they'll post three shoes in size 7, 7.5, 8. And you see people responding right away, saying "I'll take these sizes." So I think you just have to know which platforms your customers are on, and be there.

Bryan Larson: Yeah, I was going to kind of mention the same type of thing, Jean. I think that ecommerce is too often seen as ‘I sell something on my website’, rather than the idea that I'm actively looking to generate revenue online. It is as much embedded in your social marketing strategy as it is in your website strategy, and a false syndication strategy, and the list goes on. So 100% agree with that. That's [what] the strongest businesses [are doing] right now.

Brendan King: I just want to add one quick thing. I believe that a lot of small businesses feel like going into ecommerce means they're competing against Amazon. Nothing can be further from the truth. They still have the opportunity to provide their expertise, the thing that sets them apart. When we see those shoe stores posting things on Instagram, there's still a human connection and interaction where the local person is helping and giving their expertise to help their customers. Same thing with the baby store Jackie mentioned. People go to those places because there's staff there that care, and customers know they've already pre-selected the inventory. If you go into Kmart or Walmart or something, you're going to get who knows what. But if you go to small businesses, they've kind of figured out what's good for you. They know what kind of shoes you’ll like, or what kind of stroller will work best for you.

When I had my retail store, I had it happen to me many times that people would come to our place to learn about it, and then go buy it at the big box store for a few bucks cheaper. But then, if they can't make that thing work, then they end up coming back to us. So what I've found is that people are becoming more and more loyal to local businesses, and the way to keep that trend going is to have a local business that cares and provides good information, and a good experience.

About the Author

Courtney is a former Content Marketing Specialist at Vendasta who loves spending her days researching and writing about...anything really, she's honestly a pretty big nerd. When she's not blogging up a storm, you can find her collecting too many instruments while only half-learning to play them, watching too much Netflix, or planning a trip to visit all the friends she's left behind everywhere she's lived in the past decade.

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