There were a record number of small businesses started during the pandemic; the 'Shop Local' advice of each lockdown has grown into shoppers' preferred buying method; and last Black Friday witnessed the boycotting of some of the world's biggest brands - including Amazon - with many independent retailers donating to charity and planting trees as part of a renewed drive against consumerism. All this has meant one thing for SMEs: growth. But this growth also means the competition is higher than ever.
SMEs, here's how to truly stand out
There were a record number of small businesses started during the pandemic;1 the 'Shop Local' advice of each lockdown has grown into shoppers' preferred buying method; and last Black Friday witnessed the boycotting of some of the world's biggest brands - including Amazon - with many independent retailers donating to charity and planting trees as part of a renewed drive against consumerism.2 All this has meant one thing for SMEs: growth. But this growth also means the competition is higher than ever.
Despite this, there are still ways small businesses can separate themselves from competitors. As the UK's number one Fancy Dress and Party e-commerce retailer, Parcelforce Worldwide’s customer Party Delights told us: "For us, it's about being as convenient as possible. That's how we really want to stand out."
For other retailers, though, aims might be different. From capitalising on current consumer trends to leveraging new technologies, here's how to stand out as an SME.
Shoppers' growing appetite for local and independent
"People like to know where a product's come from; they like to connect with the creator. It means people trust that you do what you do well." - Duncan Maclay, Founder, This Is Nessie
Gifting website This Is Nessie capitalise on shoppers' appetite for local and independent sellers. For example, the brand hosted online art classes on Instagram during the pandemic. "People got the opportunity to spend time with Nessie," says Managing Director Duncan Maclay. "Our daughter was in those classes - that was a nice thing. Our engagement increased around those types of event."
The perception of independent small businesses as community-focussed and responsible is one of your biggest strengths. Two thirds of consumers are more likely to shop locally compared to a year ago,3 which has led to an increase in support for SMEs.
The affinity to mobile shopping
"We've seen a massive move to mobile so we've adopted a mobile-first policy." - Julia Dietz, Operations Director, Party Delights
Party Delights' mobile offering is "an important area for us." They believe, when it comes to this area, "there's a lot to focus on." Not least of which is shoppers' impatience with poor user experience and demands for complete convenience. "Planning parties is stressful," continues Dietz, "and we want to make sure it’s as easy as possible for the customer."
Mobile devices are now the preferred way for people to access the internet globally.5 This makes having a slick, highly mobile user-friendly website a great way to stand out from other SMEs.
Chat and messaging on social media
"We make sure we respond personally to every phone call, TrustPilot review, email and social media message we receive." - Ann Lowe, Head of Community, Spice Kitchen
A small business' size can be a huge benefit when it comes to customer service. Spice Kitchen capitalise on this with personal messages, across social media as well as other channels. Lowe tells us that Founder Sanjay Aggarwal's ethos is that "speaking directly to customers - even for an order of a single bag of spices - is the most important thing he'll do that day."
Duncan Maclay of This Is Nessie echoes this sentiment: "We have a very robust attitude to customer service. We always seek to put things right when they go wrong."
In 2022 most consumers will expect to communicate via chat and messaging on social media; in turn, expecting brands to be responsive and characterful on these channels. This can be a great way of standing out from both competitors and larger retailers who - by necessity - provide a less personal experience.
SMEs have a lot going for them. Not only do shoppers love to buy from independents, but a strong online presence and mobile commerce offering is by no means limited to bigger businesses. Indeed, when it comes to flexibility and overall customer satisfaction: a small retailer's size is often an advantage.
If you’re interested in how Parcelforce Worldwide’s delivery, returns and technologies can support you, visit our website for more information.
1 Sky News, 2021
2 The Guardian, 2021
3 Retail Times, 2020
4 Pollinate, 2021
5 CNBC, 2019