We’ve all heard the stories about the upheaval the retail industry has experienced in recent years. We know that online shopping continues to expand at a rapid pace, that many national chains have closed locations, notable retail brands have declared bankruptcy, and malls continue to struggle.
Here’s the thing, though…most of the media reports we hear about these troubling trends have been focused on national retail chains. What about the smaller, independent retailers and boutiques? How are they fairing in this troublesome retail landscape?
1. Boutiques Provide a Great Experience
Whether it’s online or off, consumers care about the experience they have while shopping. According to one toy store in Oklahoma:
“Local stores like us have always focused on the experience, quality items, gift wrapping, community events…We focus 100% of our energy on the large portion of the population that still seeks and will always seek an enjoyable experience, knowledgeable staff, selection, and a place to play and be a kid again. Almost all of our customers thank us for the experience they have in our store. They are glad they stopped and took the time to visit us and
spend money in our store.”
“Boutiques fill a need Amazon doesn’t,” Alderson writes on Forbes. “Amazon is functional and useful when we know what we want. But there’s a difference between buying and shopping, and Amazon does not address the shopping experience.”
Boutiques are more than just stores. They also function as style educators, suggests Alderson. That’s because many consumers either don’t have the time or don’t know how to select outfits for themselves. Additionally, fashion is always changing, and people may be afraid to try new trends. But boutiques can show them how to select styles that will enhance their body shape.
People go into the store to find inspiration, shop with friends, and find the confidence to feel good about themselves in their clothes.
“When you inspire customers, they don’t just buy your product or service — they buy the experience. They buy memories.”
2. Boutiques Create Social Media Communities for Like-minded Customers
“Boutiques connect like-minded customers over a mutual interest in fashion using live video and Facebook groups,” says Alderson. They also offer incentives to customers who share their selfies. It’s a smart move when you consider that friend recommendations are believed 92% over all other forms of advertising. And it helps to build your unique community.
No need to get overwhelmed and think you have to use every social media channel. It’s more important to meet your audience on the platforms they like to use most.
Don’t know what those platforms are? Ask your audience. Some boutiques might have more success with text message marketing, while others have audiences that respond better to Facebook notifications or Instagram updates.
3. Boutiques do Business with People
Whether they’re buying food or furniture, today’s customers don’t want to do business with large corporations or even small businesses. They want to do business with people. “They care about relational transactions and customer service,” states Alderson.
Savvy boutique owners build influence and trust not just in the store, but also through their personal brand. They’re very authentic and they’re willing to show their real selves on social media. That sets them apart from other competitors in their space. It also allows customers to develop a personal connection with boutique owners, which in turn makes them want to buy from the people they feel like they know.
Remember too, that employees are the face of your brand. Give them the training and tools they need to be successful, make them your ambassadors and show them appreciation. Treating employees well is crucial because they literally hold the power that can make or break your brand.
4. Boutiques Know their Business & Customers More Intimately
Independent retailers have distinct attributes that differ from large chains—from the types of locations they choose to the relationships they have with their customers. That being said, boutiques are uniquely positioned to learn what their customers want on a more intimate level.
For example, good boutiques don’t stock bestselling clothes only. They try out unique brands their customers might like to discover. Many boutiques even bring back clothes “failures” when their customers are ready to give the trend another try (a trend that becomes an instant hit in Los Angeles, for instance, may take up to a year to become popular in the Midwest).
And even though the growth of Amazon is negatively affecting nearly all independent retailers, a large share of local businesses say they’re better positioned than many national chains to weather the changes because of their personalized service, community involvement, and product expertise.
These three areas are things that boutiques can focus on in a more personal way when it comes to providing great experiences for their customers.
5. Boutique Owners Collaborate & Support Each Other
As you know, it’s not easy being an entrepreneur. So it’s important to have support from people who understand you.
Having “accountability buddies” can determine your success or failure, suggests Alderson:
“At The Boutique Hub, we bring together business owners to share wins and strategies, seek advice and build friendships. Whether it’s through a similar group, industry organization, or Facebook community, find your tribe.”
The boutique world is built on the idea of community over competition, with real collaboration among the business owners. Many of them may sell the same brands, but they all bring a unique personality and style to their store and their customers. In fact, the boutique industry is growing because they’re doing it together.
“Independent fashion boutiques are building multimillion-dollar companies and doing it with e-commerce and fewer than three physical locations across the country,” says Alderson. “Small is the new “big box,” and boutiques are cashing in on the market.”
“Independent retailers, in many cases, offer distinct attributes and skills that customers can’t find online or at most chain stores. These small businesses also have something more to offer their communities, according to academic research, which has found that having an above-average share of local businesses is linked to more middle-income jobs, stronger social connections, and greater civic participation.”
It looks like the “Shop Small” movement is shaping the future of retail…and boutique owners are in the driver’s seat!
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