High Streets Initiative 3 May 2017

Four small retailer methods for overcoming the reasons why shoppers prefer large stores

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Consumers perceive small or independent stores to be more expensive

Why do so many shoppers prefer large stores? Here, CEO at small business finance provider Liberis, Rob Straathof, identifies four common small retail business barriers to attracting customers.

Liberis carried out a recent study which uncovered some interesting reasons why shoppers prefer large stores and might be reluctant to spend hard earned cash with small retail businesses.

Respondent UK consumers were asked: “Do you feel there are downsides to shopping at smaller businesses?” The answers given highlighted a problem with perception, rather than the genuine faults of small businesses.

So, what are the perceived drawbacks and how can your small retail business overcome some reasons why shoppers prefer large stores?

Limited product selection

Half of respondent consumers stated that a limited product range is the number one drawback to using a small business.

This is a tough one to counteract, as smaller businesses tend to be focused sellers or service providers, often choosing a specialist area to cater to.

The choice to focus efforts on one area of expertise is often the very thing that sets you apart from bigger brands, yet 41 per cent of respondents claimed that it was variety that had them returning to big stores to spend.

Being able to offer the newest products is a good idea and doing that doesn’t have to be detrimental to your business’ positioning.

Trend-led buying can be achieved by withholding a portion of stock budget each season and buying small batches of trend led items mid-season. This saves you from being stuck with stock, or marketing material that’s out of date when something new appears.

More expensive

On the whole, consumers perceive small or independent stores to be more expensive than larger businesses. There is some variation within the survey data about where that perception lies, but 48 per cent of shoppers said that smaller stores tend to be more expensive, this ranking as their second highest concern after lack of options.

Men and women are equally as likely to believe that a large chain store has lower prices, although there is some variety across age groups, with the 65+ age bracket citing that price was their main reason to shop at bigger businesses.

This could be down to a number of factors, but indicates that this age group keep tighter control over their finances than other age groups.

This can be a real issue for small business owners, as larger shops can often charge lower prices due to increased buying power – they can buy in bulk and sell it cheap.

Some stores even entertain loss leading products as a tactic to tempt people into their shops.  As a small retail business owner, those sorts of tactics can’t be used without risking fiscal security.

To overcome this barrier, you could use your marketing budget to focus on an advertising strategy that extols the benefits of shopping small.

For example, shopping small means superior customer experience, feeling connected to your local community, supporting a local business, and the value of buying into an exclusive experience or product.

Using a larger brand as an example, the Co-op made a very good version of this idea in a campaign they ran in 2016. “The Co-op way” was aimed at showcasing how each Co-op store supported its local community and gave back to the people it serves.

Lack of online offering

The third highest ranked concern for most respondents is that smaller stores lack an online offering or a website. No surprises, but this issue was most prevalent amongst 25-44 year olds.

This age group are generally less strapped for cash but have significantly less time on their hands to physically shop in a real-world store. They will often opt to shop online to save time and fit it in around other tasks or work hours.

This point is less about changing people’s perception and more about actually improving your offering as a business.

Setting up a website needn’t be expensive, you can even utilise out of the box ecommerce platforms such as Shopify, which keeps costs low. This strategy can often pay dividends when you factor in increased sales, brand awareness and reach you will have by providing your customers with an online gateway to your products or expertise.

When you consider the revenue that a website would generate, not having one seems foolish. Being able to provide your clients with an online portal to your business is essential in today’s climate and if you’re struggling to do this than an advance loan might be the answer. Having a small outlay to increase traffic and brand perception will be beneficial in the long run.

Location and convenience are paramount

Location and convenience are seen as a key component in deciding where a customer will spend their money. Location was considered high priority for 25 per cent of those polled, and convenience was deemed important by 40 per cent.

This indicates that a significant number of consumers are swayed by locality and ease.

However, location and convenience can be understood in different ways. Location is the distance a customer has to travel to a particular shop or business, whereas convenience is the way in which they shop.

Being able to combine their required task with other duties, other chores, or shopping means that they then perceive one store as more convenient than another.

The survey data showed that convenience was the highest valued element by 25 to 34 and 45 to 54 year-olds, who are often time pressed either due to working long hours or looking after children. As such, the option to find a one-stop shop for services or goods is crucial to their ability to manage all elements of their lives.

Therefore, instead of trying to compete with the local option or the most convenient option, choose to promote your business as offering the most “superior” choice.

Waitrose has managed this very well in recent years, with its seasonal campaigns, Heston range of foods, and “Everything we do goes into everything you taste” campaign.

While Waitrose has the budget for huge marketing strategies, we can all learn lessons about placement and tone from these adverts.

Your business isn’t always going to be the closest but you can always be the best. Offer a better service, added extras, or by having the best range, you can even look at making your business a destination experience by decorating you premises in an unusual way.

Promote your business in advertising and social media as an experience for your customers, an exceptional choice in products, service and added value.

Rob Straathof is CEO at small business finance provider, Liberis.

In what other ways can the UK high street future-proof itself? Have your say by taking our quick two-minute survey.

Read more from our recently launched High Streets Initiative: 

This article is part of a wider campaign called the High Streets Initiative, a new section of Business Advice championing independent and small retailers by identifying the issues that put Britain’s high streets under pressure. Visit our High Streets Initiative section to find out more.

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