Above all, online trading makes life difficult for many small business owners. With the right strategy, smart ideas and above all together, success can be achieved.

The study by the research institute IFH Köln sounds disillusioning: Amazon customers placed 41 orders with the online giant in 2017. This was twice as much as two years before. Dr. Eva Stüber, member of the management board of the institute, explains what this means: “Especially in the last five years, Amazon has established itself sustainably and extensively in the relevant set of consumers – and to such an extent that the path to the customer is practically cut off for other providers. The acquisition of new customers seems almost impossible. Retailers must radically rethink and put their business model to the test if they want to survive in an amazonized world of consumption.” What does this look like? Which paths do successful retailers take in the (online) battle to win customers?

So much for small: Using the Ropo effect

They often say: “Customers inform themselves in the shop and then buy online anyway”. Studies show that it is usually the other way around. The consumer first researches online and then buys at the local store. Research online, purchase offline – in short: ropo – the name of this effect. There are many reasons for this behavior. Personal consulting is a factor. Other reasons are the immediate availability of the item or a pleasant shopping atmosphere. Experts from Statista found that it is important for 47 percent of the ropo customers to see or touch the product before purchasing. In order to stand out here, it is important for retailers to make sure that they are clearly visible to consumers during the preceding online research. This can be via an advertisement, a good SEO ranking or an informative website. This is how interested parties can find their way into the store. Once the customers are in the shop, good advice, time and atmosphere are the deciding factors for the purchase.

Building your own online community

Cities like Heilbronn lead the way. Here, retailers have set up their own trading platform together with city marketing. At “Mein Heilbronn Shop”, customers can buy products from their local stores. What’s special: Many products are delivered on the same day if ordered before 5 pm. Alternatively, the customer can pick them up at the store half an hour after ordering. Tips on events in the city round off the online platform and make it an informative online point of contact. The shop in Heilbronn also includes Spielwaren Letzel. The family-run company offers over 6,900 products via this online shop. The system for this type of regional trading platform comes from atalanda. It is currently available in 18 German cities, including Bochum, Wuppertal and Monheim am Rhein.

Unique services

A slide that connects the two floors of the store like at Hartfelder Spielzeug in Hamburg? Perhaps also a baby-friendly nursing and diaper changing corner so that new parents can enjoy their shopping trip in a relaxed way? Or a self-service terminal where customers can inform themselves in the store about other sizes, colors or related items? Offers such as a personalized shopping tour or a breakfast with a presentation of the new children’s collection? Or specially trained personnel who can also give tips about application purposes beyond the actual product? With services like these, a business stands out positively from the competition and above all from online stores. However, the same applies here as well: Do good and talk about it. You should be able to find this information on the website or on social networks such as Facebook or Instagram.

Small gifts for your customers

At this point, you can look into the world of online shops once in a while. This is because many pure players have perfected the form of the customer loyalty programs. Apparently tailor-made offers with suitable discounts or promotions are sent to the virtual mailbox. The consulting firm Deloitte has found that the emotional aspects of the company itself and especially the brand experience are becoming increasingly important for the type of loyalty programmes. Migros and Aldi, for instance, have done this in Switzerland with their advertising campaigns “Die Migros gehört den Leuten” and “ALDI-Kind” in 2017. Economist Luc Zobrist: “Getting customers actively involved in the projects and mission of the company. This enables them to build a relationship at eye level by participating in the creation of new products or services in community forums, at events or on social media and contributing their ideas”.

Alternative alliances in the online world

The trading platform eBay proactively recruits small and medium-sized enterprises. These companies are then placed prominently on the website. Velbert in North Rhine-Westphalia, for instance, has had its own presence on the global online marketplace for over a year now. Within the framework of the eBay City initiative local & digital, the offers of the participating retailers can be found not only via the classic product search, but also via the specially set-up entry page for the project. Since the beginning of this year, ebay has been offering retailers additional support in linking online and offline trade. According to the group, 48 percent of German eBay retailers also operate a local shop alongside their eBay shop. Trade expert Gerrit Heinemann, head of the eWeb Research Center and professor for trade at the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences, regards the “ship-from-store” model as the best approach: “Stationary traders should focus on enabling the fastest possible delivery regionally – as decentralized as possible and with the aid of a functioning merchandise management system.

Large online retailers can’t offer this: competent advice and services that are absolutely unique. This is how stationary retailers can impress their customers.


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Link: An own city internal trading platform like in Heilbronn can be a way for stationary SMEs to assert themselves in the online world.

Image: Atalanda