We are in the midst of a fundamental and rapid change in what the Internet means to small businesses. In the not-so-distant past, consumers may have been satisfied with using search engines to find basic company information, including addresses and phone numbers. Today consumers demand more. Consider this: 49% of searches for local businesses occur without a specific business in mind, meaning that consumers expect the Internet to uncover the best solution to meet their needs. As a local business, if your product or menu information isn’t readily available everywhere – your website, mobile apps, search engines, social media, and review sites – you just don’t “exist.”
Enter the digital storefront. At its simplest, the digital storefront is an easy way to post critical business information – the content that consumers want when they are searching, like a menu or product listing. Ultimately, digital storefronts are no longer a luxury for small businesses; they are a necessity. In 2013, I envision three significant technology shifts impacting their future and, therefore, the local merchant’s ability to compete. These three influencers are:
- The ability to deliver a compelling and engaging online experience.
- The ability to more deliver targeted, content-rich information through a growing ecosystem of publishers.
- The mobile revolution that gives consumers what they want, when they want it, and in the way they want it.
Here’s how these factors are influencing digital storefronts and how local businesses can prepare.
1. More Compelling and Engaging Online Experiences
In 2013, the success of your digital storefront will depend on eye-catching visuals and a multi-dimensional view of your business that allows visitors to zoom in and see the most intricate details of your menu, products or services. For example, don’t miss the opportunity to include mouth-watering pictures of your specials and nutritional and menu information, ensuring consumers get the content they want.
Be sure you have an adaptable and flexible technology that allows you to quickly change your content so you can spotlight daily specials and rotate products on the fly without requiring a team of IT professionals.
2. Delivering Targeted and Content Rich Information
You’ve likely noticed a small (okay HUGE!) increase in the ecosystem of publishers, including search engines, review sites, apps, and other content aggregators. This is a critical audience for any small business; it’s where consumers search for the information they need to make a purchase decision. Case in point: Jill just moved to New York City and she’s hungry. She jumps on UrbanSpoon and does some quick searching to see what’s in her new neighborhood. On the other hand, Bob is really craving pizza. He goes to YP.com to search for pizza. Either way, what do they both want? Menus! And you, as a local pizza place need to be sure your menus are up and accurate on both UrbanSpoon and YP.com to be found by both Bob and Jill. Don’t forget, though, Sandy, Tim, and George are also looking for dinner, too, but they are on TripAdvisor, Foursquare, and the New York Times. The long and short: you need to be everywhere consumers are searching. That’s a big task without some technology to help you along.
With more opportunities to increase traffic to your business through publishers, be sure you have content-rich information that is regularly updated and is geared toward the interests of the consumer. This way, potential customers are likely to spend more time at your storefront on whatever site they are on, because you’re appealing to their needs when they’re traveling, eating, or shopping, for example.
3. The Mobile Revolution Continues
There’s no denying the mobile revolution as consumers increasingly rely on smartphones and tablets to stay connected. When a visitor comes across your site, the download should be fast, the experience fun, and the information easy to access.
Keep in mind that a digital storefront designed for laptop browsing won’t address the needs of your mobile audience and any delays in their quest for information will send them to your competition. As a result, it will be even more important to ensure your digital storefront is mobile-enabled to accommodate shoppers on different devices.
Finally, to maximize exposure, be sure that your digital storefront distributes your business information across the most popular mobile and location-based apps, including Foursquare and Yellow Pages.
Digital storefronts enable local businesses to level the playing field against big box chains by offering more customized, local content, and richer online experiences. By taking advantage of recent innovations in storefront technology, merchants will be able to ensure that their online digital marketing efforts maximize offline sales.