In recent years, the movement toward shopping local has gained momentum as consumers work to improve the communities in which they live by patronizing small and medium-sized businesses. While this trend generates a lot of attention during the holiday season, I’m pleased that the majority of consumers are making these efforts an ongoing campaign.
In fact, according to The 2015 Cox Consumer Pulse on Small Businesses, 92 percent of consumers around the country visit a small business at least once a week – with slightly less than half (46 percent) patronizing a small business three or more times a week.
The Cox survey gauged the sentiments of nearly 1,400 consumers around the country to get their reasons for shopping small. The good news is, from Providence to Phoenix, consumers are circulating their money where it has the greatest impact - on Main Street.
This impact can be measured in real dollars. According to some reports, of every $100 that is spent locally - $68 stays in the economy. This circulation of cash does a lot for local economies, from helping spur job creation to strengthening overall infrastructure.
Small Business. Big Service.
The Cox survey found that consumers feel they get a better level of customer service when patronizing small businesses. In fact, better customer service ranked second only to the “need to shop local.” Convenience and more familiarity with customers also scored high.
At the same time, consumers pointed to a variety of ways that small businesses can improve the customer experience even more, with tactics from broadening their offerings to expanding their hours of operation.
Here is a quick glance of the myriad ways consumers believe small business owners can move the customer service needle in their collective favor:
53% Offer more competitive pricing
46% Offer frequent shopper/loyalty programs
32% Expand their hours of operation
24% Broaden their offerings
20% Offer free Wi-Fi
11% Offer e-commerce capabilities
9% Offer more payment options (mobile)
9% Hire more employees
Is More Government Good?
While consumers are doing their collective part to support small businesses, many feel that local and federal government agencies are not doing enough to strengthen this sector. Despite many federal and state initiatives designed to further small businesses, consumers want to see more.
When asked if they feel local and federal government agencies are doing enough to promote small business growth, the response from consumers was overwhelming negative; with 66 percent feeling local agencies are not doing enough and an even larger number (79 percent) stating that federal agencies are falling short in this area.
In addition to government agencies, surveyed consumers also widely agreed that our school systems should do more to incorporate curriculum on entrepreneurship – with many respondents advocating for this education to begin as early as elementary school. When asked if they think curriculum on entrepreneurship and small business ownership should be covered in K-12 education, 78 percent of respondents say yes.
Consumers feel a curriculum on entrepreneurship and small business ownership should begin in:
17% Elementary School
33% Middle School
35% High School
15% Do not think this should be covered in K-12 education
The Way to a Customer’s Heart
Attracting customers and keeping existing customers engaged can be particularly challenging for small business owners as they deal with time constraints and workplace issues like hiring and labor laws. With this as a backdrop, entrepreneurs will need to make a concerted effort to reach customers and prospects through the most effective channels. According to consumers, small businesses can best catch and keep their attention through:
48% In person events
45% Social marketing
32% Direct mail
Every year in early May, the U.S. Small Business Administration commemorates National Small Business Week to recognize the contributions of small businesses around the country.
Even more impactful to our nation’s overall economy and the communities in which we live is the ongoing patronage from consumers who realize that their loyalty and their dollars matter.
About Stephen Rowley:
Stephen Rowley serves as Senior Vice President of Cox Business, overseeing its strategic direction, including all marketing, operations, sales, product development and partnership initiatives. Before leading Cox Business he was vice president of sales and field operations for Cox Business’ western U.S. markets where he served as the chief liaison between corporate headquarters and the western markets with oversight on local strategic planning, sales performance, marketing, back office, customer installations and capital investment.
Cox Business commissioned a blind survey of American consumers in April of 2015. Respondents to the online survey included a total of 1,366 consumers around the country. Complete findings are available CoxBlue.com/survey.