We get it. You don’t have time to survey every customer who walks through the door or visits your online shop. Getting through your day unscathed is hard enough without having to sift through a pile of feedback cards, tweets, and comments left on your Facebook page. On slower days, you might add your customers’ suggestions to your never-ending to-do list, but you’ll notice that their feedback falls further down the list in favor of the latest fire you have to put out, vendor agreements that require negotiating, and employees that need mentoring.
Here’s a hard truth: People don’t change until they have to. Regardless of noble intentions, change is hard and time-consuming, and, given the option to coast comfortably, most do so until they have to deal with the business equivalent of Chernobyl. By then, it’s too late. Coasting is what separates a good small business from a great one.
The Game Has Changed
If you’re not laser-focused on your customer, and their pain points, wants, and needs, you’re leaving money on the table. With the internet and social media, businesses are finding that they’re relinquishing more and more control to their customers.
Gone are the days when all you needed was an ad in the Pennysaver, flyers, and a radio shout-out to attract and grow your customer base. Now, customers have the power of choice, and you’ve probably already faced the grim reality that they’re not as loyal as they used to be. Now, they’re going for the value option, or the business that makes an effort to cultivate a real relationship, or the business that knows exactly what they need at any given moment.
Running a small business requires you to keep current — not only in the way you operate your business, but also understanding how your customers think and behave. While you may not have the time to stand in front of your shop with a clipboard questionnaire, you can access a goldmine of information from Amazon and YouTube. Both channels will give you insight into how your customers think, purchase, and behave, as well as what they want from the products and services they love.
The best part is that your detective work comes free of charge. Also, this valuable intel can keep you competitive, current, and help you skyrocket your business.
Why Amazon and YouTube? Think about it. According to Google (who owns YouTube), 80% of the 18-49 demographic tunes into a YouTube channel. The time spent watching YouTube, on their TVs, has doubled year over year. YouTube users compose nearly one-third of all internet users, watching a billion hours of video per day. While Google is the go-to text and image search engine, YouTube is considered its video counterpart. In short, your customers are probably on YouTube interacting and commenting on videos.
Amazon’s reach isn’t too shabby, either. According to Statista, Amazon was the #1 online store in the United States in 2017 with sales of $178 billion and a customer base of 310 million active accounts worldwide. Your customer likely buys products similar to yours on Amazon, and many customers love to share their thoughts and opinions there.
In short, you have access to information from two global giants — sites that are part of your customers’ everyday lives.
Now that you know about the powerful information at your fingertips, let’s get sleuthing.
Starting with YouTube
Let’s say you own an upscale coffee shop. You sell organic and fair-trade brews, as well as delectable pastries. You want to keep pace with trends and also your customers’ tastes and preferences. You can go to YouTube and search for businesses that share your client base (or the kinds of clients you want to attract).
Watch company-created videos to spark content ideas, watch reviews from fans and influencers who highlight aspects of the business that are important to them, and dig into the comments to see what customers are saying — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
If I’m an upscale coffee shop owner, I might check out Blue Bottle Coffee as an example. Typing in “Blue Bottle Coffee” (use the quotation marks so you’ll get that exact search term instead of sifting through results of coffee, blue bottles, etc.) yields nearly 10,000 results.
Right off the bat, you can get content ideas for your own social media channels — how-to brew, the latest in brewing tools — and pour over coffee tutorials. You may see some videos that reference Blue Bottle’s having been acquired by Nestle, a giant corporation. In this video, you can view comments that offer an incredible amount of information to the small business owner. You’ll get context about the market and demand for specialty coffee, as well as how small business owners can carve out a space for themselves among the giants.
You can also see that fans are concerned about quality of the coffee, change in price, and a potential shift in company culture — from here comes the decline in quality from blue bottle beans to what do you think will happen to green coffee prices?
Use this to your advantage! Talk about the benefits of being a neighborhood coffee shop. Talk with pride about your sourcing, store culture, and the consistency and quality of your coffee. Personal connection and quality still matter to customers, and you can make that a key point in your store signage and local marketing efforts.
Scan through other videos and comments. Take screenshots, save videos, and jot down ideas for new content and products that your customer is craving.
Moving on to Amazon
Now let’s dig a little deeper into how Amazon can help your business.
Let’s say you own a bicycle shop and you sell bikes, as well as accessories. You sell in a brick-and-mortar location and you recently expanded your business to include an online shop. Your biggest accessory revenue driver is bicycle bags and you want to make sure that you can anticipate any potential customer questions or issues, by addressing them in the product descriptions and/or assessing your vendor partnerships. This will help ensure you have lower return rates and restocking losses, and that you’re building trust with your customers.
Let’s also say that you sell the Aduro Sport Storage Bag or a similar product. The Amazon product page gives a wealth of information, including how the bag is photographed and described. Zero in on the questions, because these might be questions your customer would ask. For example, Will it fit an iPhone 7 Plus? You can add this to your product description by saying that the bag is compact enough not to obstruct your ride and yet it fits the essentials such as your smartphone, keys, and wallet.
Then, click on the three-star reviews. Three-star reviews give you a lot of proactive product information and ways the product can be improved. Five-star reviews are suspect (they could be biased, bought, or unhelpful). Similar to our YouTube example, you’re looking for gaps — issues with the product or overall shopping experience.
Several customers have complained about missing dimensions and sizing issues. Fit is key for this product and, if the storage bag is too bulky or big for a particular bike, the customer needs to know dimensions and fit up front. Some reviewers pointed out that the bag is spacious — another key point you might want to hone in on in your product description.
Compare the reviews and interactions between the customers in the comments under each review. Consider being a fly on the wall, hearing how your customer is talking about your products. You might even want to review similar bags or bags at a higher price point to help determine the customers’ preferred brands and price points. Keeping pace with what they want and how much they prefer to spend is critical in refining your business and pricing strategies.
Getting too comfortable in your small business could be the death of it. Every day brings new changes in technology and shifts in consumer trends. However, at the core is your customer — their needs, wants, preferences, and struggles. If you get clarity on how your customers think, you can refine your business to proactively address their needs head-on with your solutions.