Major retailers rarely devote premium shelf space to lesser-known brands, which makes it hard for small enterprises to gain recognition and build up a following. Alice.com, an online marketplace for everyday consumer goods like trash bags and toothpaste, helps startups co-exist with industry behemoths. In fact, 90 percent of the more than 400 brands featured on its website come from modest-sized companies, says CEO Brian Wiegand (pictured). “The small guys have the same opportunity,” he says. “Without any friction, you can be on the shelf next to Procter & Gamble.”
Wiegand offers a few tips for small-business owners who are looking to make it big in the online marketplace:
- Use social media. Facebook, which has more than 800 million users, offers an inexpensive yet effective way to get the attention of customers. Brands of all sizes can connect to their audiences directly without the costs associated with other marketing strategies. “Facebook is a pathway to success in a fast-paced manner,” Wiegand says. What’s more, adding e-commerce capability to your Facebook page means fans can purchase your products without ever leaving the social-networking site. Alice, Storefront Social, and ShopVisible can support businesses in creating an online store on Facebook.
- Offer samples to your target market. Giving stuff away has been an effective marketing strategy for years. Nowadays, thanks to data gathered via the web, a company can be more efficient in doing so than ever before. For example, instead of blanketing a neighborhood with handouts, you can deliver samples exclusively to your target demographic, such as new moms or college students. Alice’s Try & Buy feature ties in with a brand’s Facebook page to encourage consumers to “like” the company. Those who do can receive a coupon if they enjoyed the sample and offer feedback.
- Encourage testimonials. Today’s consumers are savvy and comb the web for reviews before purchasing new products or trying a new brand. Testimonials influence their decision, for better or worse. To tip the scales in your favor, ask your best customers to review your product.
- Maintain a professional online presence. Small businesses can look just as appealing as larger companies through a well-designed website. It helps to have a clean, clutter-free homepage, with information that is easy to find. It’s also good to have a “FAQ” or “Frequently Asked Question” section and an “About Us” page that tells your customer the story about who you are. And remember the basics: Make sure all the links and tabs work and that you copy-edit the site for spelling and grammar.