On March 6, award-winning small business guru (and frequent Fundbox blogger) Rieva Lesonsky asked the Twittersphere eight burning questions about retail —and experts from around the world provided some seriously useful answers.

In the Twitter chat —the first of two this month for the online commerce giant, Alibaba —Lesonsky and other influencers shared invaluable insights with retail owners in almost every vertical.

Here’s a recap of the big takeaways from some of our favorite retail and e-commerce follows on Twitter.

1. How can retailers understand customers better?

The question:

“With consumers being more demanding these days, retailers/e-tailers are under even more pressure. How can they understand more about their existing and potential customers?” [Source]

The answers:

“Firstly by defining them. Who has a need for a product or service? What is the value they perceive that you can deliver?”

—Marketing expert Lyndon Johnson [Source]

“Analyze the data your company already collects to understand their habits and preferences so you can help them in the future.”

—Small business expert and radio host Barry Moltz [Source]

“Surveys, focus groups, in-person interactions in stores, and chat conversations can all help you gather customer data. Combine several methods to build a more complete picture of your customers!”

—Business, credit, and payment platform Fundbox [Source]

2. Should you have an e-commerce site?

The question:

“Is it a must for retailers to also have an e-commerce website? Why?” [Source]

The answers:

“The trends are clear: Mobile and Ecommerce are mission-critical. Rieva already listed proof, but it just makes sense —giving customers others ways to buy from you is necessary and builds loyalty.”

—Marketer and Forbes writer TJ McCue [Source]

“If your retail business doesn’t have an online presence, it’s time to create one. In 2017, e-commerce sales jumped 18 percent and mobile commerce sales grew 40 percent, while foot traffic at brick and mortar stores fell by 8 percent.”

—SCORE Mentors [Source]

“Companies like @Amazon have changed customer experience in shopping online—forever. Now, consumers expect that retailers will have a digital presence that makes product discovery simple, and makes purchasing fast and transparent.”

—Fundbox [Source]

3. Why won’t retailers work with suppliers overseas?

The question:

“Some retailers are still reluctant to work with overseas suppliers. How can they get beyond their concerns?” [Source]

The answers:

“Get over it! It’s a worldwide economy, and there are plenty of safeguards in place to make sure your small business is successful.”

—Small business expert and radio host Barry Moltz. [Source]

“One way to work with overseas suppliers is to go through a trusted intermediator: 3rd-party distributors that coordinate biz transactions between suppliers and buyers. This way, you can work with an organization that is known and can provide advice on which suppliers to work with and why. Over time you may decide to work directly with suppliers after you’ve had a good experience and built confidence.”

—Fundbox [Source]

“When working with overseas suppliers, always research the country’s labor and tax laws to keep your #retail biz from landing in employment court.”

—SCORE Mentors [Source]

4. How can you find (and vet) suppliers?

The question:

“Finding products (sourcing) can be a difficult task. How can retailers/e-tailers find and vet suppliers?” [Source]

The answers:

“Get a written contract that includes product specifics, pricing, payment terms, shipping terms, and delivery.”

—Co-founder of SMB Group Laurie McCabe [Source]

“Use your own small business network to ask for referrals”

—Franchising expert Joel Libava [Source]

“There tons of online marketplaces popping up (like @fitzroytoys or @LandscapeHubInc). These are designed to bring brands + manufacturers together in one ecosystem to make product discovery easier while also making their brands more visible.”

—Fundbox [Source]

“Have you been on @LinkedIn lately? This is hands-down the best place to make new business connections.”

—Founder of NowSourcing, Brian Wallace [Source]

5. How can customers find your business?

The question:

“With a huge increase in the number of online stores, how can businesses get ‘found?’ How do you stand out from the pack?” [Source]

The answers:

“Target influencers to get attention and spread the word! Depending on your products, you may want to send free samples to Instagram or Pinterest influencers, or reach out to bloggers/press that will review your products.”

—Co-founder of SMB Group Laurie McCabe [Source]

“A good search-optimized website will help you get found & compete online no matter what your niche. The more detailed & helpful your site, the clearer/easier to navigate your site is, the more likely you are to attract + engage your target audience.”

—Fundbox [Source]

“Reviews are a huge part of getting found online today. The best ecommerce sellers actually follow up with buyers to see if they have any customer support issues, and to (nicely) request a review if you were satisfied. Counts big time!”

—SCORE mentors [Source]

6. How do you nurture loyal customers?

The question:

“In-store customers also have many choices of how and where to shop. How do you build a loyal customer base?” [Source]

The answers:

“Offer high-quality products and a fair price. Most people are willing to pay a little extra for quality. When quality is poor but prices are high, that communicates to the customer that the business is less than focused on customer satisfaction.”

—Fundbox [Source]

“What is the “feeling” customers get as they walk into your store? Ask the next 20 customers this exact question and see how they respond. Then, make sure you exceed their expectations every time they visit. Critical information!!”

—Founder and CEO, Brian Moran [Source]

“Be proactive in asking for #customer feedback and act on it! A well-thought-out qualitative survey or interview with a customer can make a big difference.”

—SCORE Mentors [Source]

7. What are customers looking for?

The question:

“Demographic marketing is key today. Who is actually shopping these days? Who is buying online? What are customers looking for?” [Source]

The answers:

“It’s important for #smallbusiness owners to know the different customer personas – and the reasons they buy from you. Some buy for convenience; others for quality. Don’t send a convenience message to a quality customer. Tech today can help you with that.”

—Founder and CEO, Brian Moran [Source]

“Beware of stereotypes and generalizations. We aren’t millennials, baby boomers, gen X or whatever as much as we are a collection of individuals. Segment based on buying behavior, not old-fashioned demographics. And believe what people do, not what they say.”

—Founder & Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Tim Berry [Source]

“There’s been a huge generational shift where people who grew up with their entire life online do most of their purchases through digital channels. The digital shopping experience has changed to accommodate the #UX that #digital shoppers expect.”

—Fundbox [Source]

“Women shop most, men spend more, Millennials outspend all. Customer service first, then value and convenience.”

—Founder of NowSourcing, Brian Wallace [Source]

8. How do you expand your customer base?

The question:

“How can small retailers/e-tailers expand their customer base? Attract new customers? Broaden their appeal?” [Source]

The answers:

“Commit to building a community around your products. Design what your community will look like.”

—Web, mobile, and social strategist Ray Sidney-Smith [Source]

“Remember great customer service is the new marketing! When you delight customers, high ratings and reviews will follow—as will referrals and repeat business.”

—Co-founder of SMB Group Laurie McCabe [Source]

“By using the power of email marketing. Collect emails at purchase…and before!”

—Franchising expert Joel Libava [Source]

“1. Have expanding PROFITABLE customers as a marketing goal. 2. Research and profile those customers. 3. Create irresistible offers that speak to their pains and your solutions. 4. Create content (written, video, quiz, social) that educates and engages.”

—Author and publisher at DIYMarketers Ivana Taylor [Source]

“People still prefer to do business with other people, rather than faceless companies. To grow your retail business, emphasize personalized customer service.”

—SCORE Mentors [Source]

Wrapping Up

As a retailer, what can you learn from this Twitter chat? Plenty.

Think outside the box for better business success. Working with overseas partners, creating an e-commerce site, and understanding your customers better will generate more leads and help you move customers through sales pipelines.

In addition, finding and vetting suppliers, expanding your customer base, increasing your online presence, and nurturing leads provide you with a bigger return on your retail investment. Make use of all the new and emerging technologies available to you, whether that means using new online marketplaces in your industry to find the latest products, or taking advantage of new digital community-building and commerce solutions.

 

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Content strategy lead at Fundbox. Irene is a writer, marketer, and content strategist with over 10 years of experience working with mission-driven businesses to bring their stories to life.