SMB retailers have been fighting the lonely fight as the big box stores and online giants have taken away market share. Amazon and online shopping have certainly had an impact on many SMB categories.
But now SMBs have a chance to take the “marketplaces” technologies that have enabled Amazon and others, and use them to strengthen their own businesses and compete (and partner) in the next generation of shopping. They can use these to provide state of the art solutions for search and discovery, promotions, inventory, payments, loyalty, pickup and delivery, and maps.
What we are really seeing is a shift from “shopping” – which might be seen as going to one store and making linear transactions -- to a broader notion of “always on” marketplaces. In the new marketplaces, everything is being constantly compared, analyzed and reviewed. Stores have different options in providing services and goods.
The new marketplaces first started emerging a few years ago with the rise and decline of daily deals. The one-off deals didn't always accomplish much for SMBs, which signed on to acquire new customers, and then generally did not see them again. But as daily deals have declined, Groupon and others have refocused on working with their SMBs to create always on marketplaces. One of their new goals has been to keep SMBs as constant customers. Offers are kept up for weeks at a time, and targeted to customers based on their interests and behaviors.
In this environment, it is up to the SMB stores to participate. They can provide their goods and offers in the marketplace, or simply take advantage of the platform technology to better understand their customers and new ways to market to them and engage them.
The new marketplaces mostly live online and critically, mobile. But they also have an in-store impact, thanks to the growing omnipresence of Wifi – which allowed for “showrooming” comparisons of goods, instore mapping, instore offer targeting, live on the spot reviews and instant, contactless checkouts.
All of these new options don’t necessarily mean that SMBs “beat” larger retailers. But it does mean that they have a long-term chance to participate in the new climate, and adjust accordingly.
And the marketplaces concept doesn't just apply to apply to retail. It also applies– perhaps, even more strongly – to the services sector, which is now being transformed by the entry of ….Amazon, Google and others.