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Making small business lemonade out of Internet lemons.

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
Matt McGee has just put up a truly thought-provoking post at Small Business SEM entitled When the web is a small business enemy. I recommend reading this, and I’d like to do some out-loud thinking about this subject here.
The basic point of Matt’s post is that there are certain small businesses that have been driven into the ground by Internet powerhouse sites. Books is an obvious industry that has suffered from the likes of Amazon.com, and in an article Matt links to, a bookseller who’d been in business in Chicago for a decade relates how he realized his goose was cooked when he saw deliveries from Amazon.com being sent to the people who lived upstairs from his shop. The people hadn’t even bothered to come down the steps to see if he stocked the titles they wanted to buy. How lazy can you get?
As I see it, by making this choice, the people in question made two silly mistakes. First of all, they likely had to wait between 3-10 business days to get their books. In addition to this, they had to pay for shipping. As a small local business, you’ve got two things in your corner that could, potentially, turn a losing situation into a winning one. Modern Americans adore instant gratification of their wants. Without a doubt, you can give them the goods they seek quicker than anyone who has to ship over distances. And second, the increase in shipping charges that has been the talk of the e-commerce world this month could turn paying for shipping from a small inconvenience into a seriously off-putting part of shopping on-line. Small e-commerce business owners are scrambling their brains right now to somehow deal with this inflation of shipping costs in a way that will still make it worth it for their customers to buy from them.
So, here’s the deal…if you have a small, brick and mortar business, you’ve got the cards of instant gratification and 0 shipping charges in your hands. But you’re going to need to take this onto the web to make the most of it.
The recent advent of local search technology is making it possible for you to develop a super website that sets your business up as a top local provider of the goods you specialize in. You don’t have to sell online, but if you put in the effort to list your products on-line, along with prices, you’re starting to get into the groove of this. Now, let’s consider the fact that one of the things people value most about the Internet is the ability to compare prices. To meet this need, if you were to provide price comparisons of your products against those of popular on-line sources, making a big point about the fact that the customer can own this item today and not pay a cent of shipping, simply by coming into your shop, you are starting to work up a valuable sales proposition. Beyond this, you’ve got technicians, sales staff and other real-life experts who are there to personally help the customers with the products they want to buy…and that’s something no on-line store can compete with. Live help and 800 numbers simply can’t take the place of a real human being talking to you face to face. Being small becomes a virtue if presented correctly, and America’s growing dissatisfaction with big corporations may just be your ‘in’. Get all of these value propositions glowingly written up on your website and pursue local search optimization and you will be getting in on a good thing.
The one tough part the smart local business owner needs to figure out comes back down to pricing. One of the reasons purely e-commerce sites can offer such low prices is because they don’t have the rent and other overhead costs to pay that a brick and mortar store does. You may simply not be able to beat the prices of Amazon.com, even taking the 0 shipping into account. But I can see potential for a smart business to play on the growing public awareness about the benefits to both the local economy and the environment that result from buying locally. This might range all the way from getting articles in the newspaper about how your business employs the town’s youth…Amazon doesn’t, to a print campaign of bumper stickers that say something to the tune of “Amazon.com doesn’t live in Greenville, but Bob of Bob’s Books Does. Support Greenville’s Economy. Support Bob’s.” Okay, that may not be a stellar example, but you get the idea. The very fact that a small business can put a personal face on their business the way no person can means you have a chance to personally reach out to the small demographic of your local area. Amazon can’t do this.
But, wait a minute, you may be saying, doesn’t Solas Web Design build a lot of e-commerce websites? You bet, but where at all possible, we are counseling our clients to branch out into local search, as well as attempting to become global providers, because the potential is so good to become a top player in your own hometown. This won’t work for all businesses, but for many of them, it will. If you can think of a way to get the sympathetic ear of your community, many of the people will be glad to discover that they can buy that book, that dress, that tea set, that basketball, that necklace today. The challenge to you will be to find a way to sweeten the deal so that shopping with you makes your customers feel like winners!