It’s a classic David vs. Goliath scenario. In many parts of the country, local bike shops are under assault by mammoth e-commerce sites who are invading local markets online to dominate Internet search results for their most popular (read: high-margin) brands and products.
Independent bike dealers have reason to be concerned. They’ve seen the same thing happen to local bookstores, music and DVD stores plus other mom-and-pop retail operations. The etailers work hard to claim a large stake in thousands of local online search results to divert customers to their websites.
I wrote this thought leadership piece for a national cycling retailer magazine (Bicycle Dealer) to be useful to owners and marketing team members who need to know that all is not lost. The reality? The ecommerce threat is more bark than bite.
According to Forrester Research, online retail sales will represent 8 percent of all retail sales in the U.S. by 2014, up from 6 percent in 2009.
That means more than 94% of all retail sales today occur in local stores like yours.
Do the math: $155 billion worth of consumer goods were bought online last year, but a far larger portion of offline sales in stores like yours were influenced by online research. Forrester estimated that $917 billion worth of retail sales last year were “Web-influenced.” It also estimates that online and Web-influenced offline sales combined accounted for 42 percent of total retail sales and that percentage will grow to 53 percent by 2014, when the Web will be influencing $1.4 billion worth of in-store sales.
So the timing has never been better for shops to use cost-effective online advertising techniques to beat etailers at their own game. With the help of a cycling-focused online marketing partner with access to the latest online advertising technology, local shops can quickly begin to show up higher than the e-commerce sites in search results in their local markets to connect in-market buyers to their storefronts.
Get a Baseline
Before you implement a plan of action, first you need to assess the current situation. Try the following exercise and see what happens. Do a Google search right now for the top 4 brands and 4 products you sell. These are the terms your local customers are typing, trying to find you!
For example, what comes up in the top 3 positions at the very top of the results when you enter Trek bikes, Wilier, Assos, triathlon bike, Colnago and finally, cycling store and bike shop.
We'll take a guess: eBay, Amazon, WalMart. Several national sporting goods stores and out-of-market etailers and superstores. Perhaps a scattered few IBDs lower down in the search results under the related ads and manufacturer links in the white space, called organic website results.
While the national sites employ a wide-net approach, IBDs can outsmart them by using a more focused online marketing strategy to dominate the local market for the brands and products that matter most to their bottom line.
Local Shoppers Search Online, Then Buy Locally
Sure, there are some shoppers who prefer the online shopping experience and may prefer to buy products online. They don’t have the time or interest in visiting brick-and-mortar locations, and think they’re saving by not paying state sales taxes (that may change soon based on legislation introduced in Congress).
Then again, there are far more local shoppers who do their research online but who prefer to make their purchase from a local shop. As mentioned in my previous article about online marketing, 97 percent of consumers now use online media when researching products or services in their local area.
Start by seeding your company information in all the local business listing sites. Review your Google+ Local page, and claim it if you haven’t already done so. Make sure your company’s information is consistent on local Chamber of Commerce websites and other business listings websites.
Next, access your website as if you were a local prospect. How would you find out about your store? What search terms would you use in Google? What would you want to see on a local retailer website? What do you see?
It starts with how a prospect might find you, and here is where Google Adwords can help. The national website have may try to outbid you on terms such as mountain bikes or bicycle helmets but you can beat them on the local front by claiming terms like mountain bikes Dallas or Vulcan bicycle helmets Des Moines. More and more consumers are including a local destination in their search terms.
Take the Lead in Your Town
You’re going up against multi-location stores. You want to be the leader in your town and found online whenever people search for your top products within a specific geographic radius of your shop. You want to make sure your store is represented at the top of the page in both the paid ads and organic search results.
Turn your local presence and connection to the bicycle community into an asset. The etailers just can’t match that.
On your website, include logos of local organizations you belong to (e.g., Better Business Bureau, local Chamber, Association of Downtown Merchants, etc.) and charities/events you support. List the local awards you’ve won and promote upcoming events you’re sponsoring.
Employ messaging along the lines of "We're the D.C. solution for Trek bikes!" Be sure your website has your phone number clearly showing your local area code, in addition to your street address and location on a map. If you serve multiple cities and suburbs, show them on a larger map and spell them out.
Establish your social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.) and link to them from your website. Use those outlets to promote events in your market where you source customers – charity rides, Saturday morning bike clubs, bike safety events for kids, etc. Getting others to repost or retweet your content helps extend your reach.
Gain Local Brand Exposure & Position Your Store
You know what your top-selling products and core brands are. Leverage that information when bidding on search terms and creating display (banner) ads. Don’t be worried about marketing all of your products. Your biggest, high-margin brands should be an emphasis within your marketing and website content.
To create a seamless transition when a prospect clicks on an ad, direct them to a specific landing page highlighting the brand or product promoted in the ad. That’s better than just sending every click to your homepage. It’s not that difficult to create multiple landing pages within your greater web architecture.
Make sure landing pages have clear images and crisp, informative text. Include a form to capture prospect information for quick follow-up with a telephone call or email.
Concentrate on areas where you have a chance to win based on your market and the brand relationships you have. You may not carry all Trek models, but you can be the leading seller of mountain or road bikes in your market. Include messaging along the lines of “We're the authorized local dealer of X, Y and Z brands.”
Consistent with your overall integrated marketing plan, make sure that your website highlights your unique selling proposition (USP) and market validations. Focus on what makes you unique (e.g., in business over 25 years, largest selection of Terry apparel for women in Portland, etc.) and cultivate a positive customer experience that includes how you sell and what you sell.
However, don’t overwhelm the consumer with large blocks of text. Beyond some descriptive sentences, bullet points are perfectly okay to use. Try something along the lines of “Why choose us?” followed with bullet points emphasizing your services/specialties, such as:
- Dedicated to great personal service
- Get help fitting/right-sizing your bike
- Cost-effective bike maintenance
- We offer a Try and Buy program
Keep in mind that as a visual medium, websites should incorporate high-quality images. Display your top bike models with good, clean images. You don’t need to show all models, but at least include the top ten in terms of importance to your business.
These days, online videos are also easy and inexpensive to produce. Develop some video testimonials from real, local clients and embed them on your website. You can also set up a YouTube channel for another organic lift in online visibility. Keep the videos relatively short, and don’t just repeat the same selling points over and over. Have each video highlight a customer’s satisfaction with a different aspect of your business.
At this point, you may feel overwhelmed with all these suggestions and tactics. Rather than try to do it all yourself, the best strategy is to work with an online marketing company that specializes in the IBD channel and knows the ins and outs of the bicycling industry. Also, make sure your online marketing partner is a Google Premier Small Business (SMB) Partner like Netsertive.
You know your local market better than the large, national e-commerce sites, and that is your major advantage. Since you can’t outspend the etailers, the best approach is to outsmart them. You’re not concerned with selling bicycles and accessories outside of your market, so focus on your target consumer in your geographic radius, and position yourself online as “the” place to purchase bicycles and bike accessories locally.
Remember, David beat Goliath not through brute strength, but with cunning, guile and a very effective, targeted weapon. You can do the same.