Although the effects on sales from lackluster holiday seasons and bad weather supposedly fade, many small-town retailers face ongoing losses to faraway stores that have won over their usual customers. Researchers at the University of Southern Indiana and Penn State said communities should not take this "outshopping" trend lightly.
"When shoppers prefer distant stores to nearby ones, it's usually not just individual businesses in small towns that are threatened -- sometimes, the economic health of the whole community is at stake," Sang T. Choe, professor of marketing with the University of Southern Indiana at Evansville, Ind., and lead author of a recent study of outshopping, said.
"Metropolitan retailers are aggressively seeking to attract consumers from ever-greater distances," Glenn A. Pitman, director of the MBA program in The Smeal College of Business Administration, said. "Many small towns that think they are immune to outshopping because the nearest 'big city' shops are so far away and have not yet advertised in their areas could be in for a rude awakening."
Here are some tips from the study for retailers facing outshopping problems:
As you seek to maximize customer satisfaction, think of your store as an integrated part of the complete local shopping system.
All members in a shopping district must cooperate to ensure they all succeed. Careful mixing of store types and merchandise can enhance the overall image of the district.
Stand up and talk to your customer. Small town merchants must highlight local attachment through extensive friendship and quality services. This can differentiate local stores from those in larger cities.
Present an up-to-date merchandise mix and maintain well-trained clerks. A large percentage of heavy outshoppers perceive that local businesses carry shoddy merchandise or have poorly trained employees.
Track and scan customer attitudes. Knowing and reacting to attitudinal change early will help maintain your customer base.
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