In the age of big data, large start-ups and corporations have already harnessed the power of information to better target their customers, giving them all sorts of competitive advantages over small businesses.
Just think about the way Netflix leverages customer data to make sophisticated recommendations about the TV shows a consumer might want to stream, or how Yelp helps restaurants connect with customers in their area – all while providing a highly-trafficked and influential platform for user-generated content.
When giant tech start-ups mobilize customer data, it’s tempting to just assume they have resources at their disposal that small businesses – SMBs – will never have access to. It may even seem downright difficult for SMBs to replicate these successes in their own markets or to transform their day-to-day business by using customer insights.
According to a 2016 IDG study , these beliefs largely hold true among small business owners. 78% of large companies agreed that big data has the power to change how they operate and interact with customers, while small business owners hadn’t yet fully embraced big data themselves. Of the small businesses that had adopted new technology, however, 80% said big data analytics were easier to set up and use than they originally anticipated .
Don’t let your company fall behind – not when it’s easier than you think to pull ahead. We’re here to help demystify the technology SMBs need to gain a competitive advantage – and show you how you can use analytics to compete more effectively in your own industry:
1. Integrated POS Systems
How to use your Integrated POS to gain a competitive advantage:
An integrated POS tracks and manages inventory, in addition to providing tools for storing and managing customer data. For small business owners, this level of detail can be transformative, helping to drive personalized campaigns, fuel loyalty programs, and anticipate revenue.
Pull a detailed snapshot of a customer’s purchase history to target their business more effectively in both your marketing and outreach efforts. Use trend data on sales and merchandise to make smarter decisions about inventory. With detailed snapshots of what’s flying off your shelves, small businesses reduce the chance of over-ordering, saving you crucial dollars in your inventory budget.
According to Benedict Wong, VP of Marketing at the iPad POS software company Bindo, small business owners turn to his company for a host of reasons.
“SMBs use Bindo’s integrated CRM and loyalty modules to manage their customers and to create personalized marketing campaigns to increase customer retention,” Wong told us via email. “Our technology also helps SMBs keep accurate track of their inventory and automated purchase ordering through a simple, intuitive, yet powerful interface.”
Who can benefit from this technology: Retail outlets, restaurants, and other businesses in the hospitality industry – like hotels, spas, and salons – should consider upgrading ASAP to take advantage of customer insights and the potential for increased revenue.
As a small, family-owned business, Charlie & Sons convenience store provides daily necessities for the members of their Queens, NY community. But when business started to flag and inventory became too much of a chore, the owners needed a solution – fast.
With an upgraded POS, Charlie & Sons have access to real-time data about their inventory, an easier way to manage cash flow, and a system for targeting individual customers. Not only does this help solve issues around ordering, but they’ve also been able to “increase their bottom line by three-fold,” according to Bindo .
2. Customer Loyalty Programs
How to use your Customer Loyalty Program to gain a competitive advantage:
Integrating your customer loyalty with sales data can help you target consumers directly with meaningful offers, whether via email or mobile push notifications. And since return customers outspend new business by more than 60% , it’s more important than ever to make sure your best customers feel valued.
Use customer loyalty data to increase return business, personalize marketing efforts, and market your business to new customers, too. User-generated content, like online reviews from your most loyal customers, can impact the trust of up to 72% of new customers – and that could mean a big bump in your bottom line.
Small business owners now have more choices than ever when it comes to ditching paper punch cards and adopting digital customer loyalty platforms that provide real customer insight. Perkville , Belly Card , and LoyaltyGator all provide the data you need to design real-time campaigns to drive customers to your door.
Some customer loyalty programs, like Loyalzoo, even go a step further, removing the hassle from the customer sign-up process to maximise full engagement with a businesses digital loyalty program.
“The Loyalzoo service draws customers back in by removing old school paper and plastic loyalty programs, switching it up by digitizing and gamifying the whole experience,” explains Rhiannon Davies, Growth and Engagement Manager at Loyalzoo.
“Not only that, you’re gaining customer contacts and having direct access to their phones – this is priceless when it comes to re-marketing, enticing customers to return over and over again,” she adds.
Who can benefit from this technology: Almost every restaurant, retail outlet, and lifestyle small business has some sort of customer reward or loyalty program. But why use paper punch cards when you could have real-time insights on sales and marketing trends that impact your business?
At Premier Yoga Fitness, business owner Philip Henslee adopted a loyalty program that allowed customers to earn points for referring friends, creating UGC, and attending classes. Points let customers earn perks and merch – and bring out their competitive side. They have an adoption rate of about 50% – and multiple channels where customers can sign up.
3. In-Store Financing
How to use your In-Store Financing program to gain a competitive advantage:
Make your small business more competitive with larger companies and big box stores by offering flexible financing options for customers. This option helps increase customer loyalty, transform potential interest into a sale, and increase average order size, too.
“Offering financing is a proven way to increase sales and turn browsers into buyers,” Greg Lisiewski, CEO of financing company Blispay, told us via email. “This is why big box retailers have been offering financing programs for years.”
But offering flexible financing doesn’t mean you have to put your business at risk. New options like Blispay and Loan Hero make in-store financing feasible for customers and business owners alike.
“By offering their customers an affordable and easy-to-understand payment option, SMBs gain a competitive edge and are able to market low monthly payments for their product or service,” Kristin Slink of Loan Hero explains.
Ease the burden of an unpredictable cash flow and make your business more appealing to customers – all with one program.
Who can benefit from this technology: Retail outlets and specialty boutiques, as well as lifestyle and health services, can all benefit from the increased customer flexibility in-store financing options offer.
Despite catering to a wealthier clientele, Nava Health and Vitality Center customers were clamoring for more financing options and flexibility. With Blispay in place, Nava Health significantly increased both customer loyalty and their average order size. 87% of their customers continue to use the service, while Nava Health’s average order value has increased by 185%. That’s a pretty great return on investment!
4. Digital Display
How to use Digital Signage Displays in your stores to gain a competitive advantage:
In-store marketing efforts like digital displays offer businesses the opportunity to engage with customers at every point during the retail experience.
Think touch-screen content in long lines, marketing hashtags placed strategically near inventory, and loyalty program offers at checkout. Even sophisticated video storytelling helps customers feel like they’re a part of the brand.
Track how successful these marketing efforts are by linking promotions to sales within a specific period or by measuring the growth of your customer loyalty program.
“Businesses can use digital signage to announce promotions and company news to engage captive audiences, such as people waiting in line at a bank or an ice cream store, and to display hashtagged social media updates that provide social proof to other customers or clients,” explained Colin Bovet, head of marketing and partnerships for digital signage software company Enplug .
“Digital signage can even help companies motivate and retain employees by utilizing the software to showcase employees across multiple locations, in order to foster a sense of company cohesiveness,” he added.
Who can benefit from this technology: Digital displays feel natural in places such as chain restaurants and retail outlets. Clothing brands like Uniqlo and Marks & Spencer have made big strides in using unique digital content to engage their customers , too.
As wait times increased at Creamistry , an upscale ice cream franchise, the owners knew they needed a way to keep fans of the brand engaged in line. By introducing digital content on television screens, customers engaged with the brand on social media and flocked to the store’s customer loyalty program.
“We’re now creating content to be shared on the Enplug system via the Graphics App,” Angie Kim, marketing coordinator at Creamistry, told Enplug . “We are sharing fun facts, promotions, new products, our loyalty program, and catering options.”
5. Foot Traffic Analytics
How to use Foot Traffic Analytics to gain a competitive advantage:
Beacon technology and thermal sensors both help small businesses measure foot traffic and – in the case of beacons – communicate digitally with customers via SMS or email.
By analyzing when, where, and how traffic comes to your business, you’ll get a better sense of what is and isn’t working for your storefront. Are your hours convenient for your customers? Do customers need more incentives to come out when the weather is bad? Which promotions brought business in and which didn’t do so hot?
Take the guesswork out of how and why customers are compelled to drop into your storefront and start analyzing meaningful trends that can inform how you do business.
According to Joanna Rutter, a representative of Dor Technologies , that’s exactly why SMBs turn to her company.
“Dor gives retailers the tools they need to measure their store’s foot traffic, helping them learn how effective their marketing is at driving store visits, optimize staffing to meet customer demand, and quantify how successful their sales team is at turning visitors into customers,” Rutter told us.
“We’ve also discovered there’s a huge need for an easy and affordable traffic counting solution outside of retail. Museums and libraries use Dor’s reports to apply for funding; office buildings monitor space utilization and plan maintenance around traffic; and property management companies rely on Dor to take the pulse of their investments,” she added.
Whether your business relies on foot traffic for government funding, investment, or just plain keeping your doors open, a more accurate picture of your customers’ needs will change your day-to-day operations.
Who can benefit from this technology: On the commercial side, retail outlets and restaurants are natural fits for foot traffic analysis. Service-oriented businesses from airports to nonprofits can also benefit from this technology – especially if they need data for funders and other investors.
At Seldom Seen, a retail location in San Francisco, owner Natasha Wong is excited to review a year’s worth of location analytics from her Dor foot traffic sensor. She’s used the data to influence her decision-making around setting business hours, promotions, and weather- or traffic-related closings. Read more about her successes at the Dor blog .
6. Shelf Monitoring
How to use Shelf Monitoring to gain a competitive advantage:
Digital shelf monitors track inventory and prices in real time – making it more convenient for consumers who want to take advantage of sales, and easier for brands to stay on top of ordering and price management.
If this data can be synced up with inventory and POS, small businesses may even be able to cut down on office time for managers by automating inventory ordering. According to Business Insider, this level of insight may even be able to save retailers 4% in annual revenue .
“Brands without a real-time solution risk and often suffer from decisions made and implemented once the problem is no longer relevant,” cautions Matt Talbot, CEO of Go Spot Check. “This latency can be the difference between the companies that succeed and the companies who repetitively fall behind.”
Who can benefit from this technology: Grocery chains, retail outlets, and B2B owners who work with multiple franchises need up-to-the-minute information on inventory and pricing to stay competitive.
The owners of Brooklyn-based Five Acre Farms work with numerous retailers. Before implementing a shelf monitoring tool like Go Spot Check, they required individual salespeople to manually collect data about inventory turnover, sales, and promotions – making data unreliable. Using shelf monitoring helps Five Acre Farms track analytics around sales in specific areas, instantly update or monitor changes in price, and stay on top of order requests.
How to use Virtual Reality to gain a competitive advantage:
Use VR to perform market research on your brand’s effectiveness, help clients choose custom designs or styles in furniture or clothing, and speed up the prototyping process. Naturally, researching and producing products or services faster and more effectively helps put you at a market advantage – while customers who are asked to weigh in feel even more valued.
According to Ashley Saddul at Recruiter.com, speed and flexibility in prototyping will be transformative for SMBs in manufacturing.
“This level of prototyping will give unprecedented insight into a product at the beginning of the process,” Saddul told Forbes. “Decision makers and end-users will be able to provide better and more valuable feedback early in the game. Businesses will end up wasting less time and money.”
Since VR allows companies to bring ideas and trends to market more quickly, SMBs in the retail arena will also benefit.
“In the ultra-competitive retail space, VR gives cash-strapped SMBs the tools they need to work faster and for less money, while also positioning themselves as tech-adept thought leaders within their market,” explains Mark Hardy, the CEO of InContext Solutions .
“VR is inherently risk-free, in that it takes real-world scenarios and transforms them into a virtual workspace where retailers and manufacturers can learn which concepts will resonate with shoppers, and which ones may not. This saves time and money otherwise spent on physical prototyping, in-person tests and cumbersome planograms,” Hardy added.
Interested in learning more about why you should invest in VR for your company – and what kind of return you may see? Read more about the the benefits of VR at InContext Solutions.
Who can benefit from this technology: Manufacturers and niche retailers alike can use insights from VR to inform sales, branding, and product testing, in addition to providing proof of concept for investors.
“The retail and the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) industry, and those working in the retail space such as category managers, insights teams, sales teams, and shopper marketers, are rapidly adopting our cloud-based VR solutions,” Hardy told us. “All before creating anything in the real world, these teams leverage VR to visualize and modify new concepts, test those concepts with real shoppers, and then present the winning concept to stakeholders and partners in order to gain buy-in.”
When a large regional manufacturer wanted to propose a new shelf arrangement to grocery store chains, decision-makers worried their strategy might confuse customers. Without a large budget for research, they had few options for testing their new theory. Enter InContext Solutions, which worked with the manufacturer by leveraging virtual to help evaluate their new concept and present their recommendation to the retailer. InContext created a visual heatmap of the concept using Visual Attentional Analysis; conducted a virtual store walk-through for the retailer; and helped them gain insight into shoppers’ experiences. The resulting change in shelving arrangement helped bring in $600,000 in revenue.
8. Inventory Management
How to use Inventory Management to gain a competitive advantage:
Sync your inventory management software with offerings on your website to give customers – and sales reps – real-time information about what’s in stock. Accurate, up-to-the-minute data prevents you from over-ordering and losing money, and lets you respond more quickly to customer needs.
Not only can store managers analyze which products are selling and whether a location requires more stock, but they can also assess whether they need to rethink their ordering strategy altogether. What kinds of trends are your managers seeing in sales data? How do you use this data to inform your ordering?
Learn how to get the data you need to transform your fill rate and master your inventory turnover at Contalog.
Who can benefit from this technology: Retail outlets, especially franchises and stores that have significant web and brick-and-mortar crossover, can benefit from more sophisticated approaches to inventory management that help their bottom line.
The Next Pair, an online shoe retailer, needed a solution for keeping customers up-to-date on available inventory – as well as a way to integrate inventory data into their accounting software. Read more about how a new inventory management system helped the Australian-based retailer increase their sales and reliably serve their customers at the Unleashed Software blog .
9. Omnichannel Analytics
How to use Omnichannel Analytics to gain a competitive advantage:
Track the individual behaviors of your customers as they encounter your marketing efforts. When and why do they switch between communication channels, like moving from desktop email to mobile shopping? Which engagement method do they prefer? What helps close the sale for this particular customer?
Tracking how a customer moves through your sales funnel – and which device they use most often – can help you target and personalize your marketing messages, while integrating this data with sales analytics will make your team even more effective.
What’s more, customers have come to expect that they’ll be marketed to on multiple devices, since consumers naturally use multiple devices to shop. Meet the 69% of consumers who check websites before setting foot in a brick-and-mortar store where they’re at.
Not sure how to put the data from your omnichannel analytics into meaningful context? Check out this helpful primer from DialogTech on what you should be tracking – and how to interpret what you see.
Who can benefit from this technology: Even small retailers and restaurant chains should be tracking how customers interact with their business across mobile and PC devices. Use your omnichannel analytics to uncover the best ways to reach your customers – and get them back in the door.
Cako Bakery uses beacon technology, as well as detailed sales data from their POS, to entice return customers with mobile push notifications, drive sales from their customer loyalty app, and provide instant in-store product recommendations linked to past purchase data.
“Our customers are the most important part of our business, and with Index, we can now provide them with a personalized experience,” owner Albert Chen told retail software company Index .
“When customers arrive at Cako, Index helps us to greet them and provide relevant recommendations through the Cako App…to nurture customer relationships, increase sales, and optimize the ROI of our marketing efforts.”
10. Beacon Technology
How to use Beacon Technology to gain a competitive advantage:
If you’ve ever received a push notification from one of your favorite businesses while you were in the neighborhood, you’ve seen how effective beacon technology can be for targeting return business.
Using insights from targeted beacon campaigns can help your team transform a customer’s semi-regular business into brand loyalty, all while making your marketing efforts both more streamlined and more effective.
“For cafes, retail shops, bowling alleys, it’s [about] loyalty programs, menus and ordering, and targeted marketing,” Jess Anderson, the content creator for Estimote , told us.
“For museums and events, it’s all about pushing contextually rich content to educate and inform the participant: audio guides, videos, text, even indoor navigation functions,” she added.
Beacon technology works on a grander scale, too, helping larger industries connect with and keep their customers up-to-date.
“Industrial settings are really excited about asset tracking and storing engineering data, and airports are looking to push alerts relative to their passengers’ exact location (boarding passes, flight delays, and gate changes),” said Anderson.
Want to learn more about what beacon technology can do for your small business? Check out our marketing guide for restaurants and our primer on customer loyalty programs to get started.
Who can benefit from this technology: Restaurants and small chains should use beacons to target return customers, while organizations in the nonprofit sector can use this same tech to offer content-rich, educational experiences for visitors.
In the art world, sometimes you need a helping hand from technology. That’s what SonicPlanet, the creator of innovative sound installation “The Wall,” discovered in early 2017.
When designing the piece, SonicPlanet used iPad software to guide their visitors through the installation. Estimote beacons then triggered soundscapes as visitors walked through “The Wall.”
“The Wall installation used Estimote iOS SDK with hidden Proximity Beacons placed around the spaces, each providing a completely different 3D sound experience,” explains Piotr Małek at the Estimote blog.
“The exact sound to be played would be determined by the distance from the beacon as well as the device’s position. Visitors would grab an iPhone or iPad, download the SonicPlanet iOS app and put on the earphones to get started. As they proceeded around the exhibition, new soundscapes would await.”
If you haven’t implemented new marketing and sales technology yet to gain a competitive advantage for your small business, now’s the time. The big guys are already using it to better target their customers – and you should be too.