The three pillars for marketing a small business

In the mid to late 80’s a revolution was beginning to take shape, the disruption of a world order that had been in place for hundreds if not thousands of years. You can thank ARPANET and eventually Tim Berners -Lee for laying the foundation for the internet which has changed the ways in which we go about learning, connecting, communicating and ultimately shopping for the things we need and want.

Fast forward to the 2000’s and the adoption of the world wide web brought tremendous opportunities for businesses, more specifically, small business. Imagine, your “mom and pop” retail store could now compete on a level playing field online with the largest businesses in the world. Sure, you couldn’t afford a series of full page ads in a National newspaper or a massive TV campaign but you could afford to create your own online store that could sell your products. A major game changer for those small businesses that had the foresight and perseverance to claim their own little part of the web at the outset.

Now let’s skip ahead to 2018 and 2019. The web has matured, we’re no longer captivated by its “world shrinking” allure and it’s become something we take for granted. We get angry when pages take longer than a few seconds to load on our phones and impatient when we have to visit three separate pages to make an e-commerce sale on a retailer’s website.

Long gone are Netscape, AltaVista and even Yahoo to a degree, replaced with Google who processes over 3.5 billion searches per day and has essentially become our global “digital” conscience. On the shopping side much the same has occurred, many big names have come and gone with only the hardiest and most disruptive left standing. Those left standing however are grizzled veterans and by trial and error have captured massive market share. (hint…Amazon)

So in this age of Amazon (which by some estimates captures almost 50% of ALL e-commerce revenue in North America and 47% of all product searches) how can a smaller retailer with a couple dozen SKU’s drive online awareness and sales? No doubt a daunting task but it can be done and is done all the time. There are hundreds of success stories and these winners all have mastered the three key pillars of e-commerce, namely technology, marketing and logistics or in other words, the brain, the heart and the brawn.

The brain, the heart and the brawn

Technology: On the tech side it’s never been easier to get a site up and running. Shopify, Woo, Square and Wordpress all have ready-made templates that allow you get up and running quickly. However a word of warning…you will need to develop some expertise with these platforms as there is a myriad of modules or “plug ins” that will add functionality, payment engines, etc and not all will work as advertised out of the box….guaranteed. Ultimately if you stick with it you’ll be fine, just be prepared for some ups and downs and some frantic emails to support.

Marketing: Every small business owner seems to think they have an innate ability to be a world class marketer. After all, you know your customers and your decision to sell online is based on your gut instinct that your products or service would be a welcome addition for your target consumer. The online world is a complex place to do business, it’s changing daily and the consumer is a fickle beast. They don’t care if you’re a small business, they demand an online experience that is as good as the best. As well, the online world is now a “pay to play” environment where the saying “if you build it, they will come” just doesn’t apply. Thankfully there are tools out there that can help you plan your strategy, understand your target and drive awareness over time. Online is the primary method used by consumers to find your business, you'll have to take the time to understand it and use the tools that can best help you.

Logistics: Ok. So you’ve built your site, have taken the time to figure out a marketing strategy and your products are loaded and you’ve made a sale! Congratulations! However, as you’ll find out, shipping costs will be single largest drain on whatever profit you’re going to make. Figuring out how to offer the lowest shipping costs while still providing the service your customers deserve is a huge challenge. Definitely one of the biggest you’ll encounter and one that warrants some serious attention as it will directly affect your net income. Compounding this is the trend towards low or no cost shipping on the consumer side, placing enormous pressure on overall net profit on an industry already dealing with razor thin margins.

There is also the thorny topic of returns. The expectations of the consumer are high in this regard so doing it right involves juggling consumer experience and ultimately brand loyalty with return process simplification and automation wherever possible to hold onto profit that was made on the initial sale.

You could go Canada Post but as you get deeper in evaluating logistics choices you’ll realize that they’re not the most efficient, reliable or necessarily the least expensive, especially if you don’t have the volume. There are a number of shipping aggregators (think Trivago for shipping companies) that allow you as to pick and choose the couriers with the best price. Super convenient however prices and courier deals fluctuate so you’ll never have a consistent logistics provider, they also do not use Canada Post so you’ll need to work between two systems. Who has time for that?

You could opt to go with an Amazon marketplace presence in addition to your standalone site. The problem however is that they’ll eat up a huge amount of margin. Shipping and warehouse costs, and the fact that you’ll lose the ability to directly connect with your customers are key factors you’ll need to think about before you go the Amazon route. There is a growing belief that Amazon isn’t a great idea for your brand anyway. Many small businesses are searching for an alternative.

The Parcel Port solution. The team here at Parcel Port is laser focused on building Canada’s largest Smart Parcel locker network. Over the last year, we’ve established fantastic relationships with Canada’s largest couriers and have pilots running with some of Canada’s biggest corporations. We’re up and running in large commercial and residential buildings and have begun piloting our lockers in convenient community locations. While we plan to provide the quickest and most convenient way to shop online, we’re also serving thousands and in the near future hundreds of thousands of consumers on a daily basis.

In addition to our growing network of Smart Parcel lockers we envision a marketplace that connects small retailers with these consumers who are looking for interesting local products. Our technology will be super easy to use and in most cases transparent, effective marketing will be built in and logistics streamlined and cost effective by using our Smart Parcel network for the drop off and pick up for all orders.

Here’s the process.

The-Parcel-Port-Marketplace
The Parcel Port Marketplace System

Small business signs up for the marketplace by creating an account and in a few steps can configure a profile and enables your payment process to be set up.

Product is uploaded via mobile or desktop, whatever works for you.

Each product is priced, categorized and the appropriate target markets are selected from a pulldown list on the product page.

Consumers we serve already have the choice of opting into the marketplace and indicating what type of products they are interesting in. (the pull-down menu above)

Products the consumer has set preferences for are displayed for them in the marketplace mobile app.

When a sale is made the retailer is notified, The retailer then prepares the order, the app generates a shipping label and notifies a courier, who then picks up the parcel and delivers it to one of our Smart Parcel Lockers. (location of locker can be chosen by the consumer)

Returns are handled via the app by the consumer. Any product can be sent back via a Parcel Port locker quickly and inexpensively. Making you look good and providing an experience that generates great brand loyalty.

We’ll be providing retailers the opportunity to target consumers that have expressly asked for information on products that are relevant to them, offer up a logistics solution that is both consumer centric and environmentally friendly and very cost effective. Consumers will love the great selection of products, fast and convenient delivery using the Parcel Port Smart Locker Network and the knowledge that their online shopping leaves a smaller footprint environmentally.

When you’re a smaller retailer/etailer looking to establish and grow your business, Parcel Port can be an integral part of your 3 pillar strategy for initial and continued success. If you’re looking for more information on how to partner with Parcel Port or take part in our marketplace pilot when it becomes available, or just want to chat, give us a call at 1-800-818-0870.

Thanks for reading.