Corner convenience and grocery stores have traditionally sold their items only in-store, and have relied almost completely on customer foot traffic for sustained revenue. But now, for several reasons, the days of independently owned c-stores and neighborhood small groceries yielding online sales to bigger chains are over. To ensure continued operations in the black, Mom ‘n’ Pop establishments would be very wise to invest in an online presence through ordering websites and delivery apps.
These stores that rely on steady foot traffic to stay afloat took a massive hit during the pandemic last year and in the early months of 2021, when brick-and-mortar shopping came to a standstill. Concerned about health and safety, consumers increasingly took to the web to order items online in bulk, for direct delivery and curbside pick-up. This caused a significant drop in c-store and grocery sales, which lacked the technology to effectively compete. Consumers adapted to pandemic routines of shopping online, even though it invariably meant paying more (plus delivery charges and tip). Post-pandemic, customers continue to enjoy the freedom to choose how they shop, on foot or online.
Retail competition is harsh. Many stores that didn’t adapt to selling online went under, while others used up cash reserves or applied for loans to stay afloat. Keeping up with employee payroll was – and still is – a formidable challenge for store owners. There is a delicate balance with maintaining enough staff at the store’s physical location to smoothly manage foot traffic, while reducing expenses. Stores that offer online ordering, plus the help of an intuitive point of sale system, may be able to adjust their employee volume, with less workers needed physically on premises and more time flexibility with managing sales. This can positively impact the stores’ bottom line.
“Ordering online for store pickup or delivery is convenient. Even for curbside pickup, customers appreciate being able to order on the web or on an app and take a short trip to the neighborhood store to pick up their items, rather than endure a chaotic scene at a chain grocery or big-box store,” said Elie Katz, president and CEO of National Retail Solutions (NRS). “They appreciate the ease of ordering what they need from their local neighborhood store as opposed to buying items online from a massive chain store that cannot guarantee quick delivery.”
There are several other ways in which store owners can benefit from maintaining an online store presence or customer-ordering app. For one, merchants that find themselves with extra inventory are more likely to clear the shelves for other items by expanding their sales opportunities to an online platform. Selling online is practically like opening a second store.
Online selling has clearly revolutionized the retail industry. A forecast by grocery e-commerce analyst merchants and research firm Incisive found that online grocery shopping will increase to 21.5% of total U.S. grocery sales within the next five years. Sleeknote reports that overall, the number of online shoppers worldwide catapulted from 1.32 billion in 2014 to 2.05 billion in 2020.
Some online giants, such as Amazon.com, don’t even have any permanent brick-and-mortar stores. Their success is attributed to enabling customers to shop at their convenience, 24/7, with delivery in a day or two and same-day delivery available for perishable items. Busy families would no doubt enjoy the same benefits when online ordering from their favorite small grocery or c-store.
Consider a Small Business Trends report that found that 55% of Americans have shopped online at new stores and 64% say they’re replacing weekly shopping trips with online orders.
“There are upfront costs involved with developing online ordering websites and apps, but it’s important for business owners to see the long-term net benefits and positive return on investment,” Katz said.
Having a multi-faceted point of sale (POS) system – the heart of any business – is critical to smoothly running an online store or participating on an app in conjunction with operating a physical location. Ideally, no matter where a purchase is made, the order is registered in the POS’ database. All sales route to the same central location, to keep reporting and accounting simple. The same applies with accepting credit card payments. Whether at the store checkout counter or online, offering customers the option of payment by credit card is invaluable. And of course, credit card processing that integrates seamlessly with the point of sale system keeps the checkout ecosystem centrally located and uncomplicated.
The POS system of an independent retail store plays a key role in offering customers online rewards for referring friends to the store, and also offering frequent-buyer loyalty programs. Leveraging an online store can help gather customer information to continually send – via email and/or text – strategic, individualized notices of special promotions and sales based on consumers’ past buying habits.
The growing opportunity for traditional establishments to expand online has never been timelier, with the pandemic having changed many shopping habits permanently. Luckily, humble-budget retailers can leverage technology via their POS, to offer their customers shopping options at their fingertips.
“Online shopping isn’t, and shouldn’t be, limited to Amazons, Walmarts and large grocery chains. Small to mid-sized, independently owned businesses must jump into the online fray in order to not only stay afloat, but to compete, thrive and build retail success in the years to come.” Katz said.