‘Look mate you can like me on Facebook – what more do you want?’

Wickenden Butchers

It’s a good point and one that lots of businesses are going to ask as super-fast broadband rolls out thanks to local councils and BDUK. Everyone wants better connectivity, or for some, connectivity full-stop. What if you are a small or medium-sized business? Will you watch more YouTube? Send faster email? Allow people to order on-line? When everyone has it, where is the competitive advantage? It just becomes a hygiene factor – it’ll be a competitive disadvantage if you don’t have it. Perhaps.

I’ve had lots of discussions this week about small businesses and the digital world. The first was about better connectivity and what it might mean for SMEs. The second was about how some SMEs, particularly in retail, can compete with Supermarkets. The third was why did I care?

So, what if you aren’t a digital business (whatever that means)? What if you don’t build websites or aren’t a social media agency. What if you haven’t got a huge warehouse, trading website, and complex tax arrangements covering most of the world? While connectivity will undoubtedly help your access to markets, effectively reducing that cost to zero, it wont necessarily mean more business. If everyone can get their shopping on-line, all of it, would I get one type of produce from elsewhere? I might – if its special enough. Would it be enough for me to attract more customers, diversify, or sustain what I already have? Would it help me regain something from the supermarkets?

Years ago I worked in retail. It was a friend’s shop who now has very sensibly moved to renting cycles in Cornwall. The thing I always remember was how we saw the same faces. Some week in week out. Others when they returned from working or studying away. Others because they’d been recommended the shop. We didn’t have the internet. We had a phone. We did however have great relationships with our customers. We were social. It was fun. Customers came back.

So how might his apply in a connected world? Lets say you are a butcher. Why do you want access to markets in Dubai? You sell sausages and cuts of meat. It’s just not economic. But what it might help you do is strengthen the relationship with your customers. Become more of a socialised business – not only off-line but on-line. Effectively build a community of interest, or place, around what you do and sell. You could get some brand champions – they could influence their friends to buy from you. You might find people don’t just want to buy your produce, but your expertise as well.

You could ask customers for recipes and, if enough ‘liked’ it, offer the cuts at a discount. You could incentivise that behaviour and have a more reliable link between supply and demand – negotiating better discounts with your suppliers. You could encourage your customers to share those incentives and offers. Most have no idea what happens in a butcher’s behind the counter where stuff gets chopped up. Some don’t know how to cook or cut certain types of meat – perhaps they’d value learning? What if you posted some short videos about how to prep some common cuts of meat? Would your customers then have more interest, connection, with what you do?

None of this is radical or new. But if you haven’t been involved in the social web then these things might not come to mind and for those local businesses struggling in the current economic climate it could make a difference to cash flow when that is what strangles retail.

Why do I care? Because.


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