Vacation is over, the patio has closed, the crowds have dispersed, your summer workforce has returned to school–for many brick-and-mortar small business owners, foot traffic between Labor Day and Black Friday can all but disappear.
But downtime also means more time to take a hard look at your business and to change “would be nice” goals to “must-do” creative strategy. Fall is an opportunity to step back and examine what’s worked and what hasn’t, and redirect resources to building your online presence or networking with other small business owners in your area. By leveraging a combination of these on-season digital strategies and in-store incentives, you can keep your foot traffic robust right into holiday shopping season.
1. Capitalize on a recent trend
When PokemonGo launched in July, small business owners quickly capitalized on the app’s potential for local foot traffic. In-app items like “lures” allowed businesses to purchase virtual Pokemon hotspots that players were then physically required to visit to experience – almost like free WiFi. The longer players stayed within range of the lure, the greater chance they had of catching Pokemon (and turning into paying customers). Small businesses dropping lures and located next to Pokemon gyms reported record-breaking foot traffic in the first few weeks of the game’s debut. One owner even reported that 30 customers walked in mere minutes after dropping a lure.
PokemonGo usage dropped sharply almost a month post-launch, proving the inconsistent nature of trends. Still, it provided local businesses an unexpected rush that put small business owners in the black for months to follow. Put your entrepreneurial skills to work this fall and find a way to take a creative approach to a recent trend. It could be anything from leveraging election season and offering a discount for customers with an “I voted” sticker to holding an opening night event for the latest Star Wars. Just don’t go with the high-five selfie.
2. Start posting more (or posting at all) on social media
Today, social media allows small business owners to reach more potential customers than ever before. But it’s not enough to just have a Facebook page or an Instagram account. Your social media presence doesn’t only have to exist, it also has to be consistent. A recent study found that 50% of 18-34 year olds, 42% of 35-54 year olds, and 24% of 55+ year olds prefer businesses who regularly post to their Facebook pages.
Before you start filling your followers’ timelines and putting together a social media calendar, know that there’s a very fine line between being engaging and intrusive. Socialbakers found that posting only once per week on Facebook could negatively impact your relationship with customers online, while posting more than twice could be viewed as “annoying.”
So what does a “regular” posting schedule look like? The only way to find out how much is too much is to experiment. If you only post twice a week, challenge yourself to post each day of the week and record what happens. Are you getting more likes? More comments? If you’re only posting in the morning, try spreading out your posts during different times of day. Remember: if you aren’t increasing engagement on social media, you’re missing out on the chance to convert digital traffic to physical.
3. Share exclusive in store offers with your social media followers
Social media followers can become in-store customers. Combine the physical with the digital by posting a special offer on your Facebook page that requires customers to come in-store. Share an Instagram code with an exclusive giveaway using appropriate fall hashtags (#leaves, #instafall, #instagood.)
This could be a coupon customers can print and redeem for a free latte on the first day of fall, access to new seasonal store inventory, a chance to taste test the new pumpkin beer, or a giveaway that requires customers to check in on Foursquare at your location in their favorite fall attire.
4. Take your sandwich boards to the next level
The easiest way to keep customers and get them to recommend your business to their friends? Delight them, and not just online. Creative sandwich boards are a great–and cheap–opportunity to share your personality (or announce your Star Wars event) before customers set foot in your store.
If you aren’t an illustrator, find out if anyone on your staff loves to draw or has a passion for copywriting. Some of your college employees may be pursuing advertising or marketing degrees. Invite them to contribute and challenge employees to come up with the most creative board each day. Then test out different options and watch how people react on the street, especially if they walk inside. Who knows? You might just go viral.
5. Give your business an “instagrammable” element
#PSL is not a joke, people. Thanks to social media, coffee shops are rated both on taste and how their cups photograph for Instagram. People participate in bar crawls based on how the decor of each restaurant looks on their feed. By creating your own signature “instagrammable” feature, you can create an experience customers will want to share in online and in-person. This can be something as simple as a chalkboard wall that invites customers to share their favorite memory to a “secret” mural in the parking lot behind your shop or milkshakes with a slice of cake on top.
6. Host a fall event
What happens in your store after hours? Instead of closing down for the night or on the weekend, offer to host a class or a workshop. If you’re a boutique owner, consider hosting a meetup of local fashion bloggers and invite them to try on new fall styles in the store. If your bookstore traffic is slowing down, post a flyer for a new October book club or local writers’ roundtable.
An event is a great way to introduce people to your space that may have never visited before without the pressure to buy. Don’t forget to include a free sample or coupon in any event swag bags to incentivize attendees to return on their own afterwards.
7. Collaborate with other small business owners
Chances are that your cafe sees a lot of customers from the coffee shop next door at lunch time or that your new book club members like to grab a drink together at the bar on the corner. What if you were to join forces and split the cost? It could be hosting a joint event, like one of the above, or launching a new shop local campaign encouraging customers to explore businesses in their neighborhood. If you share the same block with several other small business owners, an umbrella event could drive foot traffic to the entire area.
8. Make sure all important (and accurate) information shows up in a Google search
According to Google, “88% of consumers who search for a type of local business on a mobile device call or go to that business within 24 hours.” However, almost 60% of local businesses don’t have their phone number listed on their site. It seems like an obvious answer, but is yours? Try Googling your business and check the results. Where do you rank? Are the hours, address, and contact information accurate?
Don’t lose out on customers due to lack of information. The first step to increasing how often customers find your business in a local search is to provide updated business hours and contact information in Google My Business. It also doesn’t hurt to upload a recent photo or two and respond to any new customer reviews.
9. Announce an online review contest
How powerful is Yelp? A single one-star increase in ratings can result in an almost 10% increase in restaurant revenue or an additional $816 per week. While business owners can’t solicit Yelp reviews from customers, you can still make your presence known. Put up a “Find Us on Yelp” sign or add a Yelp badge to your website. Print the address to your Yelp page on the bottom of receipts. List the URL on your business card.
Once people know where to find you, host a contest. Enter everyone for a giveaway who 1) visits your business and 2) submits an online review during a specific time period. You’ll walk away with (hopefully) more happy customers, and more online reviews to build customer trust in the future.
10. Offer free in store pickup
If you have an online store to go with your brick-and-mortar, save on shipping costs and offer free in store pickup to customers. Not only will it increase your chances of cross-selling once they’ve walked through the door, but it will also offer shoppers an opportunity to examine products and goods in person before they buy. In fact, research has proven that once businesses start offering free in store pickup for online purchases, in store sales increase.
11. Start a blog
Imagine if you could sit down with every customer and tell them how you got started, show them how hard you worked, and how important your business is to you, all while also increasing your SEO ranking, drawing in more leads, and building business credibility.
It’s possible folks. And it doesn’t take a team or more money or multiple platforms. It all starts with one project: a blog.
Let’s take a step back and examine the numbers: 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs and 61% have made a purchase based on recommendations from a blog. 93% of consumers say that knowing the owner helped attract and retain them as customers. Additionally, 70% of those surveyed said that sharing the owner’s photo along with a story about their business on the website is effective.
People love a great story, and a blog is an opportunity to tell your story as a small business owner without the sales pitch, one-on-one to one-on-one-thousand, for free. It’s brand awareness, a personal conversation, an additional social media channel, and an educational resource, all in one place. If customers already feel like they’ve established a connection with you as a regular blog reader, you’ll have built an easy rapport that motivates them to visit in person.
12. Launch a Groupon Campaign
Groupon is a sure way to bring more foot traffic to small businesses in record numbers, but can come at a steep cost. New customers only interested in a deal may not be converted to returning customers or you might find that your supply can’t keep up with the exponential demand. The free advertising isn’t free–it’s simply paid for by cut prices and sales. However, some small businesses can benefit more from a Groupon campaign than others. Restaurants can make up slashed entree prices in additional appetizers and desserts, and ticketed fall hay rides or apple orchard picking tours can sell additional snacks and merchandise.
If you take the time to work out the math beforehand and prepare to absorb the loss of discounted services, Groupon can be the fastest way to get new customers through the front door.12 Simple Ways to Drive More Foot Traffic to Your Business This Fall Rob Wormley