When it comes to the ability to create personal customer relationships, small businesses would seemingly have advantages over larger competitors. However, as consumers push the demand of smart devices, convenience and value could increasingly take precedence over store loyalty; and if small businesses don’t take advantage of smart tools in place now and invest in smart devices, they may be left behind.
Despite the undeniable popularity of smart devices among consumers, a recent Wells Fargo/Gallup study  shows the merchant community lagging behind the trend. Fifty-seven percent of small business owners reported no plans to make capital investments in the next year and felt their businesses did not need improvements – although 80 percent of small businesses said they would be more likely to invest because of increased sales revenue.
While 60 percent of the population made purchases online in 2011 and spent in-total an average of $608 in the process, according to a CRM Associates study  (PDF), the time to invest for a profitable result is now.
Today’s forward-looking businesses recognize that embracing their own smart devices such as point-of -sale (POS) terminals that read contactless payments and barcodes, mobile POS, kiosks and table-based catalogs help create a consistent experience for consumers and impact the way they make purchases.
At the same time, to keep up with consumer demands, small business must understand the impact that smart devices are having on how consumers make purchases, capitalize on the anytime, anywhere ability to reach the masses with relevant communication, and ensure all means of communication provide a positive and consistent experience.
Because consumers increasingly use online shopping and mobile technologies  in pursuit of greater control, small businesses need to adapt and keep up with this digital command to retain and increase loyal clients.
Beyond Traditional Commerce
Shopping in-store at local businesses is no longer the primary way customers learn about and buy products. In fact, 52 percent of consumers said accessible information and availability for questions before making a purchase would encourage them to spend more, a recent Harris Interactive study  found.
Smart devices allow consumers to be fully connected, providing an integrated shopping experience regardless of location, and create new channels to influence purchasing decisions outside of traditional advertisements and offers. The use of social networks and mobile apps provide a perfect platform for merchants to present highly targeted products and promotions, directly to customers who are looking for them.
New technology such as virtual wallets and electronic promotions make it easy for consumers to track specialized promotions and deals and keep them all in one place. This simultaneously helps small businesses retain loyal customers, provide better loyalty programs and collect detailed information about their customers shopping behaviors.
For example, new technologies, like card-linked offers can electronically attach offers, eCoupons and loyalty programs to a consumer’s payment card or mobile wallet enabling streamlined, automatic redemption at the merchant POS with immediate feedback from the payment terminal or smartphone instead of printing purchased online offers to physically present in stores.
While smart devices are influencing today’s commerce and helping streamline loyalty programs, the overall payments landscape is evolving and small businesses are seeing more and more opportunities to utilize new technologies with payments.
As more payment options become available, moving from traditional cash payments to systems that facilitate transactions in the cloud, meeting the new demands of Universal Commerce has emerged as a vital strategic consideration of any business.
Smart Devices Adapted to Small Businesses
As smart devices continue to become a larger part of how customers function, small businesses need to understand how they are impacting the consumer decision-making process and what tools will be most effective for their businesses. Since commerce has moved beyond the in-store interaction, many businesses have an online presence, a mobile application and other internet applications, including social media, to better and more closely engage with customers through multiple channels.
The best strategy for small businesses is to ensure customers have positive and consistent experiences across each outlet. Whether a customer is using a mobile app, online, or in store, there should be no question as to which ‘store’ a customer will buy from, as they see the same deal offered to them online and at the physical store. Navigation and appearance should follow a parallel structure, while prices, loyalty cards, discounts and all other policies should be the same across all channels.
The appeal of using smart devices is that customers know exactly what they are getting, no matter how they receive the information and product.
Businesses should also capitalize on the anytime, anywhere ability smart devices provide, allowing customer interaction with the brand on their terms and schedules. With customer purchasing behaviors captured through loyalty programs, merchants can send specific communications to a target channel based exactly on customer preferences.
Strategic adaptation to smart devices is small business’ best instrument for providing customers with a superior shopping experience, while thriving in the new world of Universal Commerce and keeping a robust and satisfied customer base.