Learn how enhancing your company’s digital initiatives can help you improve the customer experience.

In this ever-evolving digital world, it continues to be beneficial and essential for small and mid-sized businesses to ensure their leading marketing, sales, and payment methods match the preferences of consumers. According to the 2021 EY Future Consumer Index, 43 percent of consumers say they will do more online shopping than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. But a Digital.com survey found that about a quarter of small retail businesses don’t even have a website.

If that disconnect sounds familiar, it may be time to examine opportunities to improve your company’s digital marketing, digital payment acceptance (which can account for anything from credit and debit cards to mobile wallet), and loyalty program strategies.

But don’t wait too long — you don’t want your competitors to get ahead of you on the digital learning curve. A new survey by Ripl, Inc., found that half of small businesses are already participating in paid digital advertising, and most of them plan to maintain or even increase their efforts.

Here are three business opportunities to help you hone your digital strategy and improve customer relationships.

1. Sharpened marketing efforts

To better promote your goods and services, consider investigating, investing, and optimizing digital marketing tools, including:

  • Targeted email marketing, which allows you to send different information to unique groups of customers and measure the effectiveness of your messaging via open and click rates.
  • Engaging social media campaigns, which emphasize consumer engagement via shares and measurement of results.
  • A robust strategy for online customer reviews, including regular requests for customer feedback via pop-up surveys on your website (or in marketing emails) and timely personal follow-ups to reviews — both good and bad.
  • A thorough website renovation, including updating policies and products, adding personality and branding, taking down dated or broken pages, and adding more photos of you and your friendly team.

Whether it makes the most sense to outsource these tasks to a vendor or work them into daily responsibilities will depend on a business’s resources and capabilities. Conduct a thorough review of your current approach to marketing to begin assessing how digital improvements may fit into your strategy.

2. Lower-cost payment processing

Cash flow is the lifeblood of your business, but manually handling, processing, and dealing with cash, checks, and money orders can be costly and time-consuming. What’s more, ShopifyPlus reported on a 41 percent increase in the number of real-time transactions from 2019 to 2020. By 2025, these digital instant payments are expected to make up nearly 20 percent of transactions.

Meanwhile, a study by Blackhawk Network Global Digital Payments found that 54 percent of consumers surveyed will spend more money at a retailer where digital payments are allowed. To smooth the transition to accepting payments via mobile phones and wearable devices, consider investing in new payment systems. Also consider setting up recurring digital payments to your suppliers, vendors, utilities, and others, which is also a time-saver.

3. Mutually rewarding loyalty programs

Loyalty programs have been found to strengthen bonds with existing customers and positively impact visit and sales figures: Recent research from Clarus Commerce shows that 87 percent of consumers who like a company’s loyalty program will choose that company over a competitor with lower prices. Since the vast majority of consumers prefer rewards apps over punch cards, this is a great place to digitize.

While loyalty programs do tend to require some maintenance, their advantages can make the effort worthwhile. Consider the following tips and tricks to help boost such a program’s impact:

  • Keep it simple. Put few limitations on program-eligible purchases and make the path to rewards short and clearly defined — especially for the first reward.
  • Make it valuable. A free item or discount reward should be worth working toward. Not sure what would be most motivating? Ask a few prospects or customers.
  • Spread the word. Commit to promoting the benefits via digital marketing channels and encourage program members to do the same.

As the digital marketplace increasingly becomes the norm, it’s worth taking into account the potential benefits of online enhancements such as digital marketing, digital payments, and loyalty programs, and finding tangible steps for implementing these strategies.

Sources: EY Future Consumer Index, Digital.com survey, Ripl, Inc. survey, ShopifyPlus, Blackhawk Network Global Digital Payments Insights, Clarus Commerce 2021 Premium Loyalty Data Study, Visa The Future of Commerce report.