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Owners of brick-and-mortar stores sometimes overlook the importance of online marketing. They focus their efforts on local and print advertising, and as a result, they end up missing out on ways to keep existing customers – and attract new ones. This article will explore the reasons you need to have an online presence even if you don’t have an online store, and give you some great ideas to use online marketing to boost your sales.

Why Online Marketing Matters

Marketing experts know that a potential customer must encounter a product or brand several times before making a purchase. It is difficult to know how much exposure is necessary to drive a sale, but repetition is clearly the key. While there may be some benefit to advertising in your local newspaper, online marketing may be the best way to familiarize customers with your brand. Here are some reasons to use online marketing:

  1. Studies show that a huge majority of consumers research companies and products online before making a purchase. A 2014 study revealed that 89% of consumers used Google or an alternate search engine to do online research before buying. Other studies reveal similar results for smartphone users.
  2. Online marketing tends to yield a higher return on investment than other types of marketing, perhaps because it is so easy to target your efforts based on demographics and psychographics.
  3.  71% of consumers expect to be able to view information about a retailer’s products online even if they can’t buy them there.

As you can see, it is probable that most of the customers who walk into your store have already checked you out online. You can translate that behavior into bigger sales if you make the most of online marketing.

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How to Use Online Marketing to Drive Sales

Now that you understand why online marketing is so crucial for your local business, let’s talk about some specific ways you can use online tools to increase your sales.

  1. Use social media. Social media usage is growing daily. Regardless of your industry or product, it’s safe to assume that most of your customers have at least one social media account. Many small businesses fail to use social media effectively. Here are some suggestions:
    • Start with Facebook. It is still the largest and most popular social media site, and its versatility allows you to interact with customers in a variety of ways.  Two great options are using Facebook Offers, or Local Awareness ads to reach more locals in your area.  
    • Don’t rule out other sites. Pinterest users are more likely to make purchases based on what they see people share than users on any other social media site. They also tend to spend more money than people on other sites – something to keep in mind.
    • Integrate your marketing efforts with customer service to maximize customer engagement. Answering customer questions can go a long way toward building brand loyalty.
    • Don’t forget the “social” in social media. People want social media content to be fun and informative.
  2. Use coupons and promotions. One of the primary reasons people give for following companies on social media (or subscribing to their email lists) is that they want to get special deals. Traditional retail stores can and should use coupons to encourage customers to visit. However, even businesses who don’t normally use coupons can find ways to offer them. For example:
    • Service-based industries can offer a free consultation or evaluation.
    • Restaurants can offer a free appetizer or beverage with the purchase of one (or more) entrees.
    • Offer a time-specific promotion to drive sales at slow times. For example, if you own a garage and Monday is your slow day for oil changes, you might offer 10% off to people who come in on Monday.
    • Not all coupons need to be online. A lot of stores give out a coupon with a purchase to entice customers to come back to the store.
  3. Sponsor a contest or giveaway. Everybody loves the idea of winning a free product or service, and online marketing lends itself to such things. Consider running a contest that encourages people to share your information with their social media followers. For example, you might offer one entry in a raffle to people who share information about the contest on Facebook, and a second entry if they also Tweet about it. Contests are a very effective way to get customers to share information about your company – and to get your products in front of new customers without having to spend any money.
  4. Start a “Refer a Friend” program. This type of promotion won’t work for every business, but for service-based businesses, it is a very effective marketing tool. Instead of giving out coupons, tell existing customers that you will give them a freebie or discount if they refer a friend and the friend makes a purchase. It’s a way of increasing customer loyalty and attracting new customers at the same time – and it doesn’t cost you anything up front.
  5. Don’t forget about mobile customers. If your website isn’t mobile-adaptive, it might be time to think about revamping it. More people access the internet on smartphones today than ever before, and the numbers are still rising. In addition to updating your website, here are some other things to consider:
    • Text messages have a 99% open rate (much higher than email) and they’re a great way to reach local customers when they are out running errands.
    • Consider offering mobile customers a special mobile-only coupon.
    • Time text messages to coincide with subscribers’ activities. For example, you might send out a coupon for a free appetizer during Happy Hour, and time it to go out right when most people are leaving work on a Thursday or Friday.
  6. Start a blog. Blogging is easy and inexpensive, and it is a great way to engage your customers on an ongoing basis. With a blog, you can highlight new products as they arrive in your store, feature customer reviews, and even offer video demonstrations with ideas for how to use products. You can also:
    • Share blog posts on social media.
    • Include links to blog posts in text messages or emails.
    • Invite customer comments and feedback.
These are just a few of the most effective ways to use online marketing to increase your in-store sales. Thanks to the popularity and versatility of social media and other online tools, the possibilities are endless – so use your imagination, and watch your sales go through the roof.

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