According to a consumer survey conducted by IRI in January 2018, 76% of American shopping journeys now begin online. Whether to research products, compare prices, make reservations/ bookings, or purchase goods, …. consumers are going digital-first.

This digital-first mentality suggests that retailers big and small, local or national, need to pivot together in order to leverage the multitude of digital solutions that create convenient, multi-faceted, and unique shopping experiences for customers.

However, more often than not, digital solutions are not so easy or inexpensive to implement. Small, local businesses that are typically run by limited staff with limited resources often lack the knowledge and capacity to adopt new systems and processes; much less invest in new gadgets and software.

Back in 2012, a report by the Center for an Urban Future entitled “Smarter Small Businesses” confirmed that the failure to embrace technology was hurting business owners in lower-income, minority communities. At the time, nearly 9 out of 10 respondents reported having a computer, as many as one in five low- to moderate-income proprietors did not – and this was hurting their ability to do proper accounting and to get bank loans.

So how might your downtown organization, chamber of commerce, or local business service office tackle this digital divide? Well, the answer is really quite simple. Modernize that storefront improvement program that already exists in most commercial districts!

When you break down the storefront of the future, it can no longer simply be defined by its windows, awnings, signage, building façade, and doors. It needs to also include everything we’ve become familiar with as consumers in the 21st century – the digital Point-of-Sales system, the store Instagram/Facebook/ Twitter account or #hashtag, the store website that is synced to in-store inventory, and the Yelp and Google reviews, and more!

Like a traditional storefront improvement program, the storefront-of-the-future improvement program should include key elements such as,

  • an Audit/ Baseline Assessment
  • Educational sessions by providers and Educational Resources such as guidebooks/ handbooks
  • Technical Assistance
  • Financial Assistance
  • Celebration of Success
A professional digital service consultant may be brought on to diagnose the strengths and weakness of an individual storefront – with consideration for the store’s online visibility on various search engine and social media platforms (Google, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), store’s point-of-sales system integration with other consumer-facing platforms and store calendars etc., store’s ability to sell online and deliver products, store’s online back-office processes, etc.
The downtown organization might hold information sessions to educate business owners on the available search engine and social media platforms. Google, for example, partners with local organizations to conduct ‘Get Your Business Online’ events that train business owners on how to use Google to increase store visibility online. Or, consider dedicating a page on your downtown website to the myriad of resources already available online related to digital marketing. Link the page to resources like Facebook Business, for example, which has uploaded numerous free online courses for business owners to participate in at their own time. And finally, publish a list of pre-approved vendors who provide retail tech products and services for interested business owners to solicit help from
Enlist the help of professional digital marketing consultants, web developers, or digital business tool providers to provide one-on-one assistance to small businesses to set-up/redesign store websites/ Google and social media pages/digital back-of-office systems
Following a baseline assessment and some training and education, small businesses will need grants and/or loans for purchase of tech equipment (e.g. POS terminals, computers, cameras, internet mode/router etc.), purchase of software (e.g. graphic design software, productivity software, social media management software, cyber security software, etc.)
Feature ‘Best-in-Class’ local businesses who have successfully adapted to the changing consumer journey and implemented one or more digital solutions to attract and retain customers
As technology continues to permeate the retail sector, it’s important that we adapt the toolbox of resources we are providing to our local entrepreneurs and small business owners. We’re so excited to see organizations like Downtown Alliance here in New York City and Digital Main Street in Canada lead the movement with well-organized programs that focus financial and technical assistance on implementing digital and tech solutions that will create resilient Storefronts of the Future.