Monday, March 14, 2011

Is it better to act like a big fish or a little fish? Part 1

This is a really interesting topic that I've been wanting to write about for a long time.  When you're a small business there are many types of customers whom you'd like to attract, and some you end up wishing you hadn't...None the less, you need customers in order to succeed, unless you're independently wealthy and your business is more of a hobby.

Since there are different types of customers you need to decide whether you want to specifically target one group and risk turning away another, or if you can figure out a common denominator that will allow you to attract them all.  Here's my breakdown on the different types of customers out there.

Customer A:  These are customers who take pride in supporting small businesses and actually seek them out.  They don't mind spending an extra couple of bucks and usually they can afford to.  Once they find a business they like then you can expect them to become repeat customers.

Customer B:  Customers who fall into this group also like to support small businesses but only really when they feel it works out, the price is right, etc.  The majority of the time they end up shopping elsewhere because for them it's all about the end price, no matter how small the savings.

Customer C:  Hmmm... Customer C is more of a hybrid customer, or maybe I should say they're a High-Maintenance customer! lol  They want to support small businesses and they prefer to, but they also want you to act like you're a big business and uphold the same sorts of policies and practices as the big businesses.

If Customer C were to shop online at big box retailer's website for example, they'd just pay the advertised price, shipping, research the product themselves before they checkout and voila!

However, if Customer C were to shop at a small business for the same product they'd likely compare your price to the big box retailer's price, check out your shipping prices and policies, and then email you with all their questions.  I think they might like to do this to ensure that you're really there and because they like to make you work for their money.

Customer C isn't really a problem customer and personally I prefer them over Customer B's but they really make you work for your sale.  At least they give you an opportunity to earn their sale, that's how I always looked at it.

Now I wonder, if you were to act like a big retailer or business, put up a facade implying that you're a little bigger than you really are, would they question you as much?  This is the question to be examined.  How do you attract customers A, B and C while not turning one or the other away?

Well, if you're still reading this then I hope I have you intrigued enough to look for my follow up post in the next couple of days.  For now it appears my inspiration has led me to end this question with another question!

Do you all wonder these same things?  Do you feel pressure to act larger than you are?  Do you ever feel like it's better to appear smaller?  What are your thoughts?


Julie said...

I am definitely looking forward to reading your follow posts on this subject. Quite often I am turned away from small businesses that act like they are a big business. If I want to shop at a big business, I'll shop there. I prefer businesses that are what they are, if you're small that's ok. No need to pretend to be something you're not, it doesn't get you extra respect.

Heather - CDO said...

I also look forward to the follow-up.

I've been in business for over 10 years. Five years with a b&m, five years with an online-only, both in different industries. We ran our b&m like a "big" graphics, embroidered shirts, the whole bit. But we couldn't fulfill needs like a big business and it didn't work out for us.

Then I started our online baby store and ran it like a small business. Initially, my website policies were worded "Let ME know" or "I will do...", in other words, first tense verbiage.

But now I'm finding that our customers do expect us to be like big guys. In just the last couple of years I'm hearing more of "if Amazon can do it, why can't you", especially in regards to shipping and return policies.

The truth is, I'd love to run my store like Amazon does. I'd love to give free shipping both ways and discounts and a host of personal services. But I'm still just me. I'm still one mama trying to do the best by both my customers and my business. Some days I succeed at both, some days I fail at both. Thankfully most customers understand that. The ones that accept it become repeats, the ones who don't go to...well, Amazon I guess!

Bayla said...

Great points! So true about the 3 types of customers!

Rhonda Neely said...

I agree with Julie, I prefer business to be what they are. A small business acting as a large one will never make it.

Carissa said...

Great post Julia! I'm looking forward to the follow-up.