Zach Williams is the founder of Venveo, a digital marketing firm that focuses on bringing new marketing strategies to building supply manufacturers. In his role, Williams is constantly scouting the digital landscape to find new opportunities for Venveo’s customers.
Finding ways to grow closer to customers is paramount for independent home improvement operators. By establishing a more personal connection with customers, retailers can solidify their reputations as must-shop destinations.
Zach Williams says how home improvement products are marketed, found and sold is rapidly changing. Companies like Netflix and Airbnb were able to leverage customer curiosity and erode companies like Blockbuster Video and countless hotel chains.
High Performance Retailing spoke to Williams about the ways independent retailers can combine new technology, social media outreach and time-tested customer service to grow closer to customers and become a trusted home improvement partner.
High Performance Retailing (HPR): According to Venveo’s data, 97 percent of all sales begin online, but only 6 percent actually take place over the internet. What does that fact reveal about modern home improvement customers?
Zach Williams (ZW): The reality is, before customers even visit a store, they’re much more educated than they used to be. They’re researching products far in advance of purchasing and they’re starting online to gather that information.
You have to think about how you’re positioned, what’s being said about your business online and the information you provide. If you’re not active in that realm, then most likely you’re losing sales.
HPR: What can retailers do to stimulate interactions and grow closer to their customers?
ZW: For retailers, it’s important to ask two marketing questions. One: How do I increase people’s awareness of my business and the products and services I offer? Two: How do I turn that awareness into action and get someone to actually convert to a sale? For business owners, if you get someone in your store, the chance they will buy a product increases.
If I were a retailer and my goal were to get an online visitor into my store, I would need to be sure I offer not only the products and services that my community needs, but also the ability to be found by potential shoppers. Retailers need to make being found online one of their core competencies. One of the simplest things they can do is create a Google Local listing. This feature ensures your business has a map listing whenever someone searches for it to drive in-store visits.
HPR: You also recommend growing closer to customers through conversation—both digitally and in stores. How can retailers accomplish this?
ZW: One thing we’re seeing with real estate is that people are beginning to look for homes without actually even talking to a person. People don’t want to talk to people they don’t know, but they are willing to talk to technology because it almost feels like there’s a barrier. A customer might have questions about your products and pricing, and those are both things that can be quickly addressed via chat.
One simple way to use a chatbot for your website is to think of the top five most common questions your customers have about your business and services. Either create a chatbot that answers these questions directly on your website, or train members of your staff to be online and answer questions from customers.
Chat features are an efficient way to provide easier access to basic business information to help motivate in-store visits. If you add a chat feature to your website, you’ll most likely see an increase in overall customer satisfaction and employee productivity because of these resources.
HPR: How can independent retailers best compete online, even against retail giants like Amazon?
ZW: I think the biggest thing retailers can do is provide service and value that Amazon and other large online retailers cannot.
The name of the game in winning more sales right now is reducing friction. Friction can come in many forms. Amazon reduces friction by making it super easy to buy something wherever you are and get it to your doorstep in a day or two. You may not be able to have an online store that competes with Amazon, but you can surely reduce friction in the areas of education, customer service, logistics, delivery, follow-through and other valuable parts of your offering that will continue to expand your reach within your local market.
Disrupting the Disruptors
Williams says there are three main ways to ensure your business stays aware of shifting customer preferences and isn’t caught off guard by emerging retail trends.
Conversation is the new lead.
Find new ways to share basic business details. Through chatbots or mobile apps, give customers the information they need.
Value is the new currency.
Williams says retailers can create valuable online experiences for customers. Consider launching a DIY blog, recording how-to videos or contributing to podcasts.
Community is king.
Retailers understand their communities in ways big boxes never will. Leverage that relationship to act quickly to meet community needs reliably.