// The TAG! Blog

Competing In The Modern World

Samuel Thompson - Thursday, March 08, 2012

—( ‘my iPhone family pile’, with thanks to blakespot )— The past few years have seen the world and the way we live and shop change beyond recognition, but who we are and what we want remains the same. To me that screams big opportunity for small businesses.

Then And Now

15 years ago we had dial-up and lots of patience. Mobile phones were monstrosities. Facebook didn’t exist.

Now I can have a face to face conversation with my nan from a cafe on the other side of the world. While checking my emails. I don’t do both – it would be rude – but I can.

Despite Moore's Law having been penned in the mid 60s it still boggles the mind just how quickly technology is advancing, and how quickly society is changing as a result.

Threat and opportunity

Each step up the technological ladder leads to new possibilities, new industries and new behaviours. And as things change, business changes with it. Or they should.

Kodak – the long-time leader in the photographic film industry – recently went bankrupt, having done little to address the widespread digitisation of photography. Borders collapsed as it tried to ignored online providers and the e-book phenomenon. Blockbusters, Game, Thomas Cook… many of the biggest players in once huge fields are struggling because they didn’t adapt in time.

In their stead have risen new models which better meet – or redefine – customer expectations.

What customers really want

While the world has changed (and is changing) at a fundamental level, we haven’t (and aren’t). We're still pretty much the same kind of people we were hundreds of years ago: driven by the same needs and desires, respecting the same skills and looking up to the same types of behaviour.

We all recognise expertise, trustworthiness and quality. We all like to be appreciated, to be treated with respect and to be made to feel good. While this holds true in all activities, it’s especially relevant when it comes to our spending habits.

If the only question on a consumer’s mind was money then the world would be a very different (and much worse) place. Fortunately that isn’t the case: there are a multitude of factors influencing what we buy and why we buy it, and most of them relate to our basic desires.

Businesses which provide something more than value-for-money are the ones that stay in our mind and make us come back.

Unto the breach, dear friends

Let’s talk local and independent.

Knowing full well that I can buy 20 sausages for £1 online, why do I happily spend £3 to buy six at my local butcher? I do so primarily because the product is offensively good – you’ve not lived until you’ve tried home-made white-wine and fennel sausages – but also because I like and respect the people who work there, I trust in the high-quality of what I’m receiving and I leave with a smile on my face.

This is what brick and mortar businesses need to be able to offer in an increasingly online world.

Selling standard products and competing purely on price doesn’t work anymore. Now that we can price compare on our mobiles as we shop, we’ll buy mass-produced, standardised products from wherever they are cheapest: either online business without brick-and-mortar overheads or massive organisations with the scale to buy lots, cheaply.

In the global world of the Internet, local businesses need to provide something that can only be found in person.

The only option left is to sell non-standard products and services and to add the type of value that comes with branding and personality. Independents are in a great position to do this, and many of them already are.

I fall in line with the recommendations of the Portas Review: small businesses need to focus on experience, service and specialism. Whether you’re a cafe or a plumber, do something different, do it well and know it inside out.

What do you think? Are there other ways that local businesses can compete with the all-powerful Internet? Or should they be taking advantage of it? I think I've just found myself a post idea for the future...

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