The Internet is no longer an untapped resource of revenue for small businesses, as it once was in the past. Competition is extremely heavy, and it would now seem that every small business on the planet has a website. Yes, being successful online because a company was one of a few in their niche industry with a website are long gone.
The Internet is no longer an untapped resource of revenue for small businesses, as it once was in the past. Competition is extremely heavy, and it would now seem that every small business on the planet has a website. Yes, those early days of being successful online simply because a company was one of a few in their niche industry with a website are long gone.
With so much competition online already and more coming daily, how do small businesses adapt?
There is, of course, no single correct answer to this question. Every company operates differently to achieve different goals, and with that each will have their own strategies for dealing with increased competition. However, one strategy that I believe every small business should consider when dealing with increased competition is Repeat Business Marketing - those strategies focused on generating revenue from current or past customers. Allow me to explain.
As the age old saying suggests, it is much easier to keep a customer than it is to create a new one. This saying exists because the process for finding, attracting, and converting shoppers into customers takes a great deal of time, money, and effort. Simply stocking a product and hoping for the best is not going to be enough in a competitive online world. In addition to this, there are really only a handful of online marketing initiatives available to attract new customers (SEO, PPC, Social, etc.). The chances of a company using the same or similar marketing channels and strategies as their competition are very likely.
The one competitive advantage that every small business has over their competition is the ability to reach out and solicit business from current and past customers. Soliciting repeat business is a viable marketing strategy that every merchant should consider, and for these reasons:
Repeat Business Marketing is Easy
In most cases, a repeat business strategy can be implemented by a company directly, and without the need for outside consulting. With most repeat business strategies, there are no pages to optimize and no bids or ads to manage. In fact, repeat business strategies can be as simple as calling or emailing a past-customer.
Repeat Business Marketing is Cheap
Most repeat business strategies require very little overhead and can be implemented much cheaper than the cost of those geared towards attracting new customers. Also, as previously mentioned, there is little need for a marketing consultant which has the potential to save quite a bit.
Repeat Business Marketing is Targeted Marketing
Repeat business strategies provide merchants with the ability to directly engage a large group of extremely targeted buyers - those that have not only shown interest in a company's products and services, but have also opened up their wallets to purchase said products and services once already.
Repeat Business Marketing Removes the Middle-Man
Repeat business strategies usually feature one-on-one communication between a company and their customers, and because of this, there is no need for a "middle-man" to facilitate the engagement between the two parties, such as a marketing firm, a search engine listing, or an ad.
The following are 7 repeat business strategies that I personally recommend for small businesses with limited budgets. Consider combining a few of these ideas with those of your own to develop a long-term marketing campaign.
Send a Business Card with Every Order
One cheap and easy repeat business strategy is to include a company business card (or refrigerator magnet) with every order shipped. The idea is a simple one; unless a company is a big brand like Amazon or eBay, not every online shopper that decides to buy from them is going to remember their company's name and URL. In fact, most may forget as quickly as 10 minutes after placing their order. A business card (or magnet) is likely to find its way to the customer's fridge where it can serve as both a reference and a reminder for future orders.
Send an Occasional Email Offer
Sending the occasional email offer (Email marketing) is one way in which a company can create a one-on-one engagement with their current and past customers. This engagement, if done correctly, is likely to lead to additional repeat business. Sending an email is both simple and free, and will not only help a business remain top-of-mind with their customers, but a worthwhile promotion may increase sales.
Offer Gift Certificates with all Order Discrepancies
A time will come when a shipping mistake will occur. The most common errors seem to be shipping the wrong size or color of a product, or the wrong product altogether. Mistakes will happen. How a company addresses their mistakes will be key in determining whether or not that specific customer will be back in the future.
In addition to simply correcting the problem, say refunding the buyer or shipping out the correct order, my recommendation is to include a gift certificate that can be used with the customer's next purchase. By doing so, the company is showing that they take order discrepancies very seriously and is committed to customer satisfaction. Also, by providing such an offer, the company is giving their customers a reason to purchase again and themselves another shot at making a great impression. Something as simple as 10% off or $10 off their next purchase can turn a botched order into a life-long customer.
Include Free Samples with Every Order
The word "free" is very rarely said or meant in a world where everything now costs a pretty penny. Offering free samples of products is a great way to not only attract new customers, but to also encourage repeat business as well. A company can use their free sample promotion to introduce customers to something new, such as a different type, brand, size or flavor of the product they ordered. If the products compliment each other well enough, this strategy may encourage customers to not only re-order in the future, but to possible increase their next order to include both products.
Integrate a Login / Password Shopping Cart
This idea is a simple one. For most online shoppers, having an account with an online merchant means not having to enter several lines of billing, shipping, or credit card information with each visit. This convenience ensures that customers receive a head-ache free and speedy check-out process upon future visits, which, by default, encourages repeat business from past customers.
Integrate an Automatic Re-Order Program
This repeat business strategy is perfect for those companies that sell consumables, such as specialty foods, health and beauty products, tobacco products, medications, etc. The idea is to offer customers the option to have their order automatically replenished after a specific amount of time. Customers that enroll into the program, agree to have their credit cards charged and refills shipped at a time they specify. For example, every 2-Weeks or every 2-months.
The benefit to such a system is that the customer no longer needs to continually shop for their products. With regards to the company, the benefit is the promise of future repeat business, as well as the security of not losing a customer because he or she forgets to reorder, forgets the company's name and website address, or finds an alternative supplier with cheaper prices.
Implement a Rewards (Card) Program
This strategy is one that works very well in the offline world, and with a little creativity could be implemented to drive repeat business online. The idea is to reward customers simply for their repeat business. For example, some popular reward programs promote "buy 10 get 1 free" or "5% off every purchase with our rewards card." With a quick brain-storming session, every company should be able to create and implement a rewards program that not only provides value to their customers, but in the end also promotes repeat business.