Skip to Content

Blog Archives

How Retail Stores Can Boost Foot Traffic in 2018

The power of brick-and-mortar stores is emphasized by the new consumer via experiences. But what do experiences even mean in an era of multi-channel retail and the connected shopper who is influenced by mobile and digital influence at nearly every turn? What can the independent retail store do to improve foot traffic?

The curb appeal of your retail store might make or break your holiday season, which in turn is your bottom line. How to take your small business to the next level? We know foot traffic is key, and yet some studies show it is in decline.

According to Small Business Trends, retail traffic was down 5.5% in 2017 as compared with 2016. In spite of very optimistic projections by NRF, we have to consider that in the era of customer experiences, stores need all the help they can get. Since more than 90% of retail sales in places in North America occurs in store, attracting potential customers is still the all-important key.


Increasing how attractive your store is from the outside can help attract customers into your store. Vend call this “curb appeal”, and curbside extras (the blackboard approach) can be very useful for indie stores to stand out and funnel pedestrian traffic. The window display, the signage, and the design all count to attract your target audience to your store, the persona of your ideal customer who again and again turns out to be your highest value customers.


In an era of offering upgraded customer experiences, knowing your baseline store traffic and analytics is key. We recommend a foot tracker like Dor. With an affordable subscription it really is the most helpful traffic counter and easy to install for all kinds of retailers. It turns out, knowing really is half the battle.


In the era of the connected consumer, guess what shoppers really need? They want and expect free wi-fi. It’s a little detail of a perk, but you’d be surprised how much it stands out and can keep window-shoppers and retain their time while in your store.


Optimizing your store and retail brand for local search with the best reviews across social channels is extremely important. From Instagram hashtags relating to your community to how shoppers perceive your brand via your social reviews, the power of persuasion for the potential customer is what they find out about your store in 3 seconds on mobile.


Independent stores pioneer how we connect with our community. Having kid and pet friendly aspects of your store demonstrates you value the humanity of your shopper. Sweat the details here, as these cues help your customer feel comfortable in your store. Having connected services, lounge areas, pet amenities, kid-friendly zones and other conveniences makes your retail space more customer-friendly and the kind of place where foot traffic can retain the attention of shoppers.


To create community, independent retailers are pioneers at creating community through events, educational opportunities and helping their shoppers connect to niche cultural influences, shared interests and joint altruism. Whatever your kind of store, building community means syncing with the values of your customers. A store isn’t just a place to buy things but a social outlet in your community.


Independent retailers know the importance of rewarding repeat customers. Creating loyalty programs that can be customized to your shoppers and create addicting mobile experiences is key. For this we recommend Thirdshelf. Their flexible pay as you go pricing is ideal for independent retail stores who want to see the ROI of their loyalty marketing efforts directly on their shopper preferences. The retail data acquired here is also quite valuable and seamless.


Making it easier for customers to pay can be a real booster as this increases the chances of customers in the store actually converting on a sale. Choice and speed of payment can also impact return shoppers to visit again. Increasingly consumers are more open to various kinds of mobile payments.


Independent retailers might experiences fluctuations of traffic in on and off peak seasons. Yet, the first impression your staff makes on new shoppers is incredibly important. From the sophistication of your product displays to how helpful your associates are, nobody wants to see bored-looking staff that looks lost or worse yet, ignored. It’s a bit of reverse psychology here, but the busy looking happy associate is a subtle cue that’s telling the shopper, we are here for us and working hard to offer you the best products.


There’s no substitution for amazing and original product displays. Eye-catching design and unique and memorable displays can make the difference between a full store, and a neglected store. So don’t neglect your use of creativity in how you display your products. Having displays of brand ambassadors in the store can also attract potential customers to the store. The outward appearance of your product displays creates a powerful mesmerizing impact on shoppers looking for eloquent visual style. As an independent retailer, it’s your responsibility not to disappoint. From decorations to signs in the parking lot or digital signage, everything counts to the eyes.


With Star Printers, you can now create location marketing opportunities on the physical receipt as well. These messages on the receipt create post-purchase messages that can endear you to your customers.

Increasingly retail stores need to become foot-traffic natives to appeal to the experiences shoppers desire since in 2018 it is not about selling stuff anymore but marketing a brand experience that just ‘feels right’ to the consumer.

Michael Spencer is a content strategist, futurist and marketing consultant. He was named a 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice and blogs on technology trends as well as retail. He’s based in Montreal and manages social media branding for tech startups, in addition to blogging. LinkedIn | Twitter.

0 Continue Reading →

The Five Ways Retail is Changing Forever

Retail will never be the same. Consumer preferences are constantly shifting, technology is advancing, and commerce is dynamic.

On the front lines, independent retail stores must constantly reinvent themselves. Small business owners as entrepreneurs are essentially creators now, in an age where the marketplace is converging with a new reality.

It’s the Age of the Consumer

Retail experiences and customer journeys are now frictionless and customer-focused. Advertising, commerce and smartphone trends now have to keep up with quickly changing consumer, whose values and new habits are creating the new paradigm of retail.

Customer experiences must be the focus to appeal to audiences and personalize experiences for them that are radically in sync with culture, community, education and entertainment. In other
words, the age of the consumer means stores must impact these – and not simply sell “stuff”.

Always Easy Path to Purchase

In an era of multi-channel and always online commerce, Stores must make it easy, because, for the new consumer, convenience wins. What’s easy and convenient is different for a diverse group of your shoppers.

However being mobile friendly, having great return policies, smooth customer service, a store design that’s easy on the eyes, having a great loyalty program, that’s facilitating an easy path to purchase.

Educate and Entertain Customers

A retail brand isn’t what it used to be. The new consumer demands a fully immersive and interactive brand and product experience. Shoppers don’t just want great products with unbelievable discounts, you have to offer them the full experience.

In 2018, the full experience means does your commerce stand for something – does it bring your local community together? Does it entertain and educate you seamlessly about the product and the people who bring those products to life? Influencers, community and sustainable causes can really help a retail brand reach the next level of customer interaction.

The Power of Digital Influence

For a small business, it’s great to have your physical store, but your work is never done. For in 2018, digital influence takes many forms. From AR to digital signage in the store, to good old Email marketing and being quick to answer customer inquiries online, the impact of digital influence on commerce is undeniable.

Is your website and store optimized for search and local search, have you covered your bases on social media, have you implemented the very best POS and software integrations that’s right for your store? Everything counts, from the printer you use to the kind of marketing you do.

Be An Authentic Entrepreneur – Live your Commerce

Independent retailers are families, stories and sometimes even inter-generational. Retail stores with rich stories and who portray themselves as real entrepreneurs appeal to the human side of shoppers.

Being authentic in physical retail also means you care about your customer at every point of their journey. You sweat the details and create holistic and exquisite experiences. You inspire with the positive impact you have on the community, not just as an outlet of merchandise but a small businesses that’s approachable, experts in their domain and people that sync with the values of your best customers.

Retail might never be the same. As big apparel and retail chains go bankrupt, independent retailers recognize they have a huge advantage, they are pillars of the community and excel at putting people first. Retail might be changing forever, but there’s never been a more exciting time to be a small business owner or a shopper.

Michael Spencer is a content strategist, futurist and marketing consultant. He was named a 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice and blogs on technology trends as well as retail. He’s based in Montreal and manages social media branding for tech startups, in addition to blogging. LinkedIn | Twitter.


0 Continue Reading →

The Rise of QR Codes in Retail

QR codes are proving to be the long lost holy grail for apps to impact the real world. QR codes for retailers and merchants are actually a lot more than that as well.

Retail stores can benefit from this consumer trend by implementing the tech in their stores and to help their small businesses grow.

QR Codes are Sustainable Tech

Our Micro Receipts enable shoppers to reduce the paper footprint on their digital receipts by up to 80% with QR codes as a means of uploading receipts on to mobile devices to access mobile coupons.  

The Cashless Interactive Consumer

Facebook’s new stealth entry into the Chinese app market even relies on QR codes of WeChat.

WeChat Pay has become so ubiquitous in China, it’s led to a cashless society of mobile natives.

It’s taken a bit long for QR codes to become popular again in the West, but increasingly more apps are seeing the new movement including Snap Inc., Amazon, Spotify, among others.

QR Codes and the Future of Payments

GenZ are the most mobile generation ever, and in a landmark study by the NRF and IBM, we understand their patterns better than ever.

QR codes help connect people and things in the IoT of retail better than another other tool. Amazon’s Futuristic store called AmazonGo enables remote check out via QR code sign-in to your Prime account.

Popular peer to peer (P2P) app Venmo now has a rewards program with Wells Fargo via QR codes.

According to PYNMTS, wholesale dominance in China along with a demonization movement in India, the biggest mobile payment markets of consumers in the world, signals that QR code dominance may spread globally.

As mobile payments options increase, options like Paypal are aggressively increasing their partnerships as cloud options proliferate such as Stripe and even E-commerce options such as Shopify have their own payment. It would not be surprising to see them too go down the QR code path to legitimate convenience and speed.

Benefits of Using QR codes In-Store

The benefits of using QR codes in-store could be as versatile as the apps they are paired with. However, the rise of RFID and QR codes with products in -store means the digital influence is more varied and offers more powerful retail and retailtainment experiences.

In the sharing economy such as seeing with Ofo and Mobike in the rise of bike-sharing giants in China, QR codes are again the major access point.

The benefits of QR codes for retail stores might include:


  • Leveraging digital influence for a more customer-centric in-store experience


  • Providing value-added education on products in showrooming


  • Pair in-store appointments (with a solution like Booxi) with product information.


  • Pair in-store promos with an option such as PromoPRNT for discounted deals that reach every customer.


  • To enable mobile payment in the fastest and most convenient way possible (e.g. WeChat Pay).


  • The way to by-pass lineups entirely is called showrooming, which is the opposite of BOPIS (buy online pick up in-store).

Here QR codes are presented on products where customers can scan “dynamic” QR codes and buy the items online and have them delivered to their homes or work offices. This completely bypasses the need for lineups, queues and traditional inventory management of online retailers where the store (sometimes just a pop-up location) is more for branding than for selling directly.


Even Google with Google Chrome has experimented with QR codes. If convenience wins in the future, connected devices mean the mobile interface will supplement voice-first interfaces.

WeChat’s dominance in China means Amazon is likely to facilitate the same kind of ubiquity. It’s experimenting with an Alexa-enabled Dash wand and practically giving them away.

As in China, Japan and Asian locations, QR codes are the norm, rather than the exception. It’s hard not seeing the West follow suit, regardless of its initial and apparent allergic reaction to first-wave QR code movement.

Since mobile device penetration rates are expected become universally global by 2022, QR codes are the dominant way that retail stores can leverage digital influence and may become as common as native apps and loyalty programs themselves.

QR Codes Enable Mobile Ubiquity

Given how advanced China is in using QR codes via WeChat, we can be inspired as retailers and marketers with their real-world applications, many of which for us Westerns, it’s difficult to imagine:

Offering discounts for those using QR-codes can help incentivize their use.

  1. Sharing bikes
  2. Sharing social media accounts
  3. Post and reply to job boards
  4. Identify pets (and senior citizens with dementia)
  5. Marketing attribution and KPIs in physical retail experiences
  6. As a personal ID at events (otherwise known as conference signage)
  7. To connect anything in-person with something virtual
  8. To easily link products and items with coupons/discounts
  9. Link to exclusive access to a YouTube Video
  10. Gain access to transport schedules and other public info
  11. To act as gateways to Email Newsletter sign ups
  12. Incentivize mobile natives to do something
  13. Connect to online ads with additional images on physical for-sale signs
Learning and Copying China, The Future is “Grab and Go”

When Snapchat released so-called “Snapcodes” in early 2015, when in 2013 they seemed “dead” in the west, only now in 2017 can we fully appreciate their innovation in doing so.

QR codes are already part of the sharing economy and new way our civic life is being influenced by mobile and digital influence.

iOS 11 itself will support tons of QR code types.

Since the future is grab and go, the way smart cities evolve means new mobile touch points everywhere as the Internet of Things grows to become part of our daily reality.

In a world where everyone has mobile devices, QR codes become the ID badge of the future where we sign-in to a faster experience.

The future store has computer vision, LIDAR, anonymous facial recognition and smart shelves, carts all working in synergy. This enables new ways consumers can interact in physical environments without undue latency.

If China exists in an “alternate reality” where QR codes are population, it’s spreading. This is because it works.

The Western companies that help to make this mainstream here are at a huge advantage over their competitors. The same for small businesses who adopt this technology to improve their customer experience.

The main benefit of QR codes is they are a good advertising best practice with nearly unlimited creative potential.

Can you spot the QR code?

Are QR codes the Future of Mobile Loyalty Programs?

If China is painted with QR codes, it will be hard for the West to resist their appeal. Indeed, Facebook’s Chinese Colorful Balloons app is a proxy for this. Facebook rewards would be the ultimate loyalty program if it worked. Facebook may not be the most daring innovator, but we know they can at least copy.

If Millennials and GenZ seek unique experiences and are the first generation to grow up totally immersed in mobile life, pioneers of QR codes like Kik, stand a lot to gain. Aspiring to be the WeChat of the west is a lofty goal.

The intersection of retail, chatbots and QR codes is not fully understood. It’s monetization potential however if fairly obvious, offer a more unique way at providing convenience.

Why QR codes Make Sense in 2017
  • Most people have mobile phones (generally called increasing mobile penetration)
  • More phones now can read QR codes (without downloading an app). Especially true if you own a Xiaomi, Motorola, Samsung, Lenovo or the latest iPhone.
  • Success stories of using them are now common
  • Internet speeds are faster
  • Changing consumer behavior: namely a preference for off-price retail
  • The global brands are opting in to using them

This includes pioneers such as Alipay.

As you can see for retailers, this is bigger than just mobile payments. This is a mix of creative advertising meets brick-and-mortar retail and services.

Small businesses can hop on the QR-code band-wagon too, and stores can create promos both digitally printed receipts and mobile app entries into mobile coupons for their shoppers.

Follow us on LinkedIn, for all things retail trends, retail tech, and retail innovation.


Michael Spencer is a content strategist, futurist and marketing consultant. He was named a 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice and blogs on technology trends as well as retail. He’s based in Montreal and manages social media branding for tech startups, in addition to blogging. LinkedIn | Twitter.


0 Continue Reading →

Best POS Ad-Ons on a Budget

When owning or running a small business, having a point of sale system is non-negotiable.

The trick is to get the most out of your point of sale system.

Many POS software providers already include inventory management, employee scheduling, and loyalty, but if you’re bound in a contract with a software that doesn’t offer these tools, check out our list of add-on technologies that won’t break the bank.

Small business owners are running a business, and every dollar counts. In this article, we’ll explore some of the gold standard points of sale third party integrations, the best bang for your buck.

Best POS Ad-ons on a Budget


QuickBooks allows you to manage all aspects of your business directly through the point of sale. It is your one stop shop for processing transactions, accepting credit cards, managing your vendors and inventory, and building customer relationships.

It will integrate with any point of sale software to maximize your POS capabilities and allow you to run your business on one, easy-to-use platform. QuickBooks will also help you to manage all business accounting including sales, inventory, and business costs.

Cost: $1,200 per year for the Basic version


MailChimp is one of the simplest email marketing tools you can use for your small business! With automation and e-Commerce features, MailChimp allows you to drive sales and keep a personal touch while removing manual tasks from your to-do list.

In addition, MailChimp recently added integrations with Facebook and Instagram to run campaigns based off your email list. Use MailChimps automation tools to send thank you emails to new customers and remind them of abandoned carts.

Cost: FREE (up to 2,000 subscribers & 12,000 emails per month)

3.Star Cloud Services

Star Cloud Services provide a suite of digital receipt and customer engagement solutions for retailers. Available with any Star Micronics thermal receipt printer, Star Cloud Services prints a QR code on the bottom of printed receipts that shoppers can scan and save in Star’s free AllReceipts™ digital receipt app.

Within the application, retailers can drive engagement to their website with Engage NOW or include coupons on the back of the digital receipt with Receipt Flip.

For a more eco-friendly option, retailers can opt to print Micro Receipts, which contains only the AllReceipts QR code, store name, and time stamp, but has the same functionality as the full length receipt.

Check out retail innovation news, POS info and small business tips on our blog here.

Cost: FREE


Outfy is a tool that helps retailers to promote their products on social media and sell through e-Commerce. Retailers can simply import the products they would like to promote, and then schedule and manage social sharing of the products all through the same platform. Once retailers have shared their products on social media, they can then track the performance of each product on each platform.

Check out its customer reviews on Shopify’s app store here.

Cost: $30 for 1,200 Sharing Credits


Thirdshelf allows businesses to create their own, branded loyalty marketing program that can be fully integrated to the point of sale. It is 100% digital and will work with any existing set-up. In addition to loyalty, Thirdshelf allows retailers to build out their customer list and send birthday offers, thank you notifications, and monthly digests to their shoppers. Retailers can also send custom offers and automate their marketing offers.

Read Merchant Maverick’s Review of thirdshelf here.

Cost: $7 per month (per 250 members) for the Regular package


Dor is an accurate and affordable store foot tracking tool that tracks how many people are entering your store, how many of those people are making a purchase, and measures retail analytics based on those numbers. It includes analytics that measure marketing outcomes and in-app weather insights to help you understand the impact of weather on your business.

Check out what’s new at Dor Technologies on their blog here.

Cost: $44 per location per month for Standard package

Local Merchants Should Choose Add-ons that add ROI

Any of these add-on software technologies will help to transform your point of sale into a fully functional business management tool.

From valuable analytics to customer engagement, your point of sale can provide much more than just check out transactions given the right tools.

Researching the right add-on for your business is critical, but the tools available and what they can do continue to show a lot of improvement.

Get started with any of these POS add-ons today!

Brianna Moriarty is the Marketing Communications Associate for Star Micronics with a focus on content creation and social media marketing. She frequently writes content to help small businesses build their marketing strategy and social media presence. Outside of her writing, Brianna enjoys traveling, music, fitness, and lots of coffee. LinkedIn | Twitter.

0 Continue Reading →

Retailing – The Worst of Times and the Best of Times

Some of the smartest institutional investors in the world, including behemoth Berkshire Hathaway, have washed their hands of retail. The daily store closings and near weekly retail bankruptcies have become as predictable as my dog needs a walk.

And yet I remain firmly convinced that for retail entrepreneurs and small business owners there has never been a better time to be in retail, and I’m not smoking anything!

Let me be very clear, for anyone who follows me or any of the other retail mavens and bloggers out there, you know retailing is going through, arguably, the most consequential changes in 100 years. Suffice it to say that many retailers have succumbed, and much more will fall.


The internet has become the most efficient manner to sell almost anything, but particularly commodities. That’s the stuff we purchase and consume repeatedly. This would have occurred EVEN if Amazon had not become the force that it has, but it has exacerbated the challenges for big boxes selling those commodities.

We can expect an ongoing bloodbath between Walmart, Target and Amazon and others, as they continue to tighten ever-thinning margins, improve supply chains and continue to recalibrate their last mile strategy.

For another institution of the twentieth century, the department store, the skies are also very cloudy. To quote Warren Buffet, “the department store is online now”. It’s also fair to say that over the course of the last half century the DNA of that institution has morphed into something less recognizable and less relevant than their founders conceived. There is only so much you can dilute the ‘secret sauce’ before it completely loses its taste.

Their meager attempts at recalibrating were hamstrung by overly confident directors, increased debt, faceless consolidation, unrelenting discounting, and Wall Street expectations. They were further undermined by operational efficiencies imposed at the expense of their (once) valued customers and an indifference to changing market forces, demographics, and consumer spending habits.


Further, one cannot separate the department stores’ woes from that of the major malls that they anchor. Their successes and failures are inextricably connected. As we have watched the sales fall at department stores, we have witnessed a similar drop in “foot-fall” (love that term) in the malls.

We know that the US is over-retailed with nearly twice the square footage as the next most retailed country. And according to a recent Credit Suisse research report, more than 8,600 brick-and-mortar stores are expected to close their doors in 2017.

Retail analyst Jan Rogers Kniffen told CNBC in May of last year that he predicted 400 of the 1,100 enclosed malls in the U.S. will close in the coming years, and only 250 of the remaining will thrive. This runs roughly parallel to the number of ‘A-class malls’ that currently exist; and surmises the fallout will be distributed among the B, C, and D properties. Todd Henderson of Deutsch Asset Management was quoted in a recent interview saying, “There are A-class ‘trophy malls’, and then there are the rest”.

New Point of Sale

Future cultural anthropologists will analyze the correlation between the disruption in our buying patterns and the fact that we are all walking around with the ‘new point of sale’ neatly tucked away in our purse, backpack, or back pocket. Just as in store sales have diminished, online has been experiencing double-digit annual growth, almost since its onset. Forrester predicts that by 2020 U.S. online sales will exceed a half trillion dollars.

So why am I an enthusiastic supporter of indie retailing given the industry carnage? Because I believe that much of the current retail woes are caused by too much of the wrong stuff, in the wrong places, at the wrong time.

Additionally, there are now and will continue to be unmet wants and needs, across diverse market segments. Looking at the most successful upstart concepts of recent years (Bonoboos, Birchbox, Warby Parker, Shinola Detroit, Casper, Kendra Scott, etc.) they have several things in common.

Many are digitally native, vertically integrated companies who control their own destiny’s and understand the real nature of omnichannel, as a holistic means of operating. Most of these companies are highly focused niche brands who exist to serve a targeted market; rather than being all things to all people, which is where so many retailers have failed. Additionally, they have entered the realm of the retail real estate with a solid on-line footing and an avid following.

There are several conditions in place that further help to support my optimism regarding indie retailers and small business start-ups. These include 1) Low barrier to entry and a level playing field; 2) Consumer’s desire to support local businesses; 3) Readily available space and access to funds, and 4) Low cost and high impact of new media.

Low Barrier to Entry

The Internet has put much more people in business than it has taken jobs away. We know that Amazon, E-bay, and Etsy have all become launch pads for third party retailers who would have been greatly challenged without them. Many if not most of these players have complementary websites and some even have physical storefronts, temporary or permanent.

The very best of these players have worked to develop legions of social media ‘brand advocates’ who engage with and support the brands as well as post glorious, often personalized imagery online for all to share. These kinds of individual expressions often result in a level of brand awareness that would have cost untold millions of dollars to generate back in old ad days.

Going Local

Back when my retail design firm was helping entrepreneurs take steps to up their game; we knew what was necessary to make them ‘look national’ to generate a following and establish their brands. Today with the backlash against all that is big and ubiquitous, even the national brands are trying to look local, and community connected. It is much easier for a ‘home grown’ business to look, well, homegrown. One of the greatest brand values that a company can foster today is authenticity, and you can’t fake that.

Many new retailers are approaching real estate quite differently. Some have tested concepts with highly effective pop-ups, both as freestanding spaces as well as co-tenancies within existing retailers. Also, the days of intransigent mall landlords who won’t give a start-up the time of day are mostly over.

The most progressive among them have even initiated programs designed to identify and assist start-ups. In its inception in the 90’s, Mall of America launched a retail ‘incubator program’ intended to identify and support just such retail start-ups; the program, which I talk about in my book, proved to be highly successful. Mall management will need to consider making similar investments to compensate for the loss of many specialty chains.

Filling a Niche

As I alluded to at the beginning of the article, price transparency and distribution efficiency, aided by the internet, have contributed to the commoditization and downfall of many of today’s retailers. Too many of the once distinguished players felt forced to compete on price; usually by stripping away all that differentiated them from their completion (think lower left on the price/value matrix).

The huge window of opportunity for indie retailers and start-ups is to become a ‘prospector’ in search of a category, product, or service that they can “own”. That defining brand must embody a keen sense of value, authenticity, and personalization, and its ‘story’ must evoke a strong emotional connection to its audience (think upper right on the price/value matrix).

Fertile Ground

The search for experience over mere consumption has been the subtext of many recent articles on retail survival, including some I’ve penned. That said, a brand or concept that truly celebrates the culture, nuance, and immersive participation into a specific product or service can redefine or reinvent an entire category.

Whether it be food, beverage, sports & recreation, collecting, make-tailing, heritage & ancestry, or the sharing economy; there are enthusiastic audiences who will find discretionary dollars to spend on their passions, in almost any economy. It’s the entrepreneurs and indie retailers job to connect and engage with those enthusiasts in a manner that a big box or pure-play online retailer simply can’t. Advantage, indie retailer!

Sanford Stein is a retail trend forecaster and speaker, are the founder of RETAIL SPEAK and the author of the 2015 IBPA Award winning RETAIL SCHMETAIL. A product of an ‘immersive’ retail upbringing as the son of a mid-century American merchant. He witnessed his dad and uncle go from “accidental retailers” to brand builder’s; and while in his teens was laying out stories on his bedroom drafting table. A half-century later, with over 400 retail design projects under his belt, he’s now cultivating his lifelong passion for all things vehicular. LinkedIn | Twitter

0 Continue Reading →

Why SMB Can Benefit from User Generated Content

Retail brands and small businesses are starting to learn the efficacy of resharing the content of their customers in creative ways, otherwise known as user generated content.

In an age of word of mouth, peer influencers and micro attention spans on mobile devices; if marketing is going to be customer-centric; content may as well come from them as well.

After all; a 6.9x increase in engagement is considerable.

The younger generation has retailers in a pinch with their distrust of traditional advertising. Of course, we can’t even blame them for being ad weary, when the Atlantic (via Sprout Social) reports that “the average consumer is bombarded by over 3,000 advertising messages a day. In a world of ad blindness, how can a small business get the word out about their products? The answer is simple: give customers incentive to advertise to themselves. is a good example of a brand that demonstrates the value of building and celebrating an active customer community base. UGC is after all at the intersection of customer success, testimonials and social media itself as a social commerce platform. It is one of the most effective means of obtaining brand trust, awareness and advocacy in the age of authentic marketing.

What’s There to Gain from UGC?

User generated content (UGC) refers to written content, social media updates, images, and video content created for a brand by customers. UGC gets more shares than brand curated content and, according to the Later blog, “Millennials trust user generated content 50 percent more than other types of media.” And it’s not just Millennials that prefer UGC. A recent Harris study (via Curalate) found that 62 percent of adults in the United States report being influenced to make a purchase based on a friend’s social media posts.

In an era where content itself is becoming stoppable; one has to wonder at the future of UGC for SMB merchants as a trend that is particularly effective.

With user generated content garnering so much free traction, companies which don’t take advantage of the free promotion are missing out on a huge opportunity to grow their brand and increase customer engagement.

Reach the Right People

Creating a user generated content campaign gives a brand visibility among their followers’ social media networks. Audiense reports that “84 percent of people are more likely to trust opinions from people they know than from traditional advertising.”

Since many of a brand’s second degree connections will also fall within their target demographic, a UGC campaign is a great method to gain traction with potential customers.

Small Businesses Reap Big Profits

Although UGC Campaigns are beneficial for brands of every size, they’re especially beneficial for small businesses. Since small businesses have less red tape than larger companies, they’re often able to be more creative and offer customers a faster response time than their contemporaries. This creates quick and measurable growth for the business in question.

Small businesses can also use UGC campaigns to promote in-store sales and events, thus engaging their local community and bringing traffic into their stores.

Since major brands have already been gaining a lot of ROI from UGC, it might be time small businesses implement it to cater to the new consumer.

Getting Started with UGC

There are a few options for small business retailers looking to start their own UGC campaign. Before getting started, it’s important for retailers to hone in on their brand’s message or theme, and to figure out what type of campaign is most in alignment with the lifestyle of their brand.

Image-driven campaigns are the most effective, so creating an effective campaign means choosing which type of image will work best with the product and demographic.

Quick and Easy Way to Get Started

The fastest way for a small business to get started with UGC is to create their own branded hashtag on Twitter or Instagram, and to invite customers to submit photos for the chance to have their image reposted on the brand’s page. When doing this, it’s important to give followers specific guidelines for the image and to post examples of the type of image the brand wants.

For some customers, the potential to have their image shared with a brand’s following is incentive enough to generate content for the brand. For others, the incentive to win a prize or receive a discount on their next purchase will prove the most effective.

Promos on receipts are very compatible with UGC, as one of our up coming products can leverage it for small business retailers.

Source: images and graphs for this article from Mary Meeker 2017 trends deck.

Jasmine Glasheen is a Freelance Writer and Retail Strategist. A panelist on RetailWire’s BrainTrust, Jasmine has been published on Retailwire, Independent Retailer, CART, and many others. She was formerly the editor of Off-Price Retailing magazine, and has been quoted both in Forbes and in RetailDive. When she’s not at her keyboard, you’ll find her guzzling kombucha or dancing like a maniac. LinkedIn | Twitter

0 Continue Reading →

How Can Small Businesses Leverage Video Content

Video Content is on the Rise

When it comes to social media marketing, video content is taking the lead in most consumed content. In fact, Buffer predicts that online videos will account for more than 80% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2020.

Over the past few years, new social media platforms have been built for the purpose of video content and others have adjusted to make a more user-friendly interface for videos. That being said, there are many way to leverage video content as a small business owner.

Small Business Doing Personable Marketing

As a small business owner, you are constantly looking for new ways to stand out among the competition, especially if your competition is large, corporation franchises. Creating video content to promote on social media is a great way to do so, but keep in mind that different social media platforms attract different audiences.

Therefore, you need to understand what type of video to promote on each platform. Here is a simple guide to help you out.

Using Video on Facebook

Before we dive in, let’s take a look at some video marketing statistics for Facebook (compliments of Buffer)

  • Over 8 billion videos or 100 million hours of videos are watched on Facebook everyday
  • 44% of SMB owners and marketers plan to spend money to promote their video content on Facebook
  • 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound
  • Facebook is rated as the most impactful social channel for video – 8.4x higher than any other social channel
  • People spend, on average, more than 3x more time watching a Facebook Live video than a video that’s no longer live

Video Storytelling Creates Moments

Now, there are a few key takeaways from this information. First, if you are not currently creating video content for Facebook, you definitely need to be doing so! You may be thinking, how can I, as a small business owner, afford to invest in creating video content?

When creating video content to promote your small business through Facebook, it’s important to remember that consumers value two things: humor and authenticity. Hubspot’s article, “10 Excellent Examples of Video Marketing on Facebook,” does an excellent job of outlining the type of content that works when promoting a brand through video.

While it’s tough to compete with Apple and Taylor Swift, you can create a low-budget video that will make the viewer laugh or that will tell the story of your business. Or, scratch the high-production and go live! Do a live video tour of your store or find some frequent shoppers and put together a goofy video to go live with.

Video on Twitter

When you think of promoting video content, Twitter usually isn’t the first social media to come to mind. However, video views on Twitter grew 220x from December 2014 to December 2015. This means that if your small business is active on Twitter, you should definitely be leveraging video content.

Similar to Facebook, Twitter allows users to upload native videos so viewers will see your video and it will begin to play right in their timeline rather than opening a link in a new browser. And respectively, native videos on Twitter drive 2.5x more replies, 2.8x more retweets, and 1.9x more favorites than third party players.

With the growth in popularity of video content on Twitter, there are a few different ways to leverage this. One fun way to leverage video content on Twitter is to respond to questions with video.

Since Twitter has a 140 character limitation, it can be difficult to answer customer questions with one Tweet. Filming your answer and tweeting it back to your customer not only helps you to ensure that you’re giving the best answer but it creates a more genuine connection with your customers.


Instagram – the platform of foodie photos and puppy pics – is all about brand culture. Since Instagram have changed their limitations from posting 15-second videos to 60 seconds, businesses are flocking to Instagram to promote video content.

Since users are limited to only 60 seconds, this means that they can get away with posting more simple and playful videos versus full-length promotional videos that might get posted to Facebook or YouTube.

The important thing to consider when making the video for Instagram is that it will always be viewed on a mobile device. Like Facebook, many viewers are likely to watch your video without sound and while they are on-the-go, meaning that it best to create content that is easily consumable.

Oreo, a world-recognized brand, has mastered the art of creating short videos for Instagram that appear authentic while still promoting the famous cookie. You may also want to consider quick how-to videos, “behind the scenes” videos, or videos that capture special events for Instagram.

Small businesses can leverage video content in many ways; but creating an authentic connection with your audience is now easier than ever before. Stories and videos can demonstrate to your brand followers the passionate entrepreneurs you are.

Brianna Moriarty is the Marketing Communications Associate for Star Micronics with a focus in content creation and social media marketing. She frequently writes content to help small businesses build their marketing strategy and social media presence. Outside of her writing, Brianna enjoys traveling, music, fitness, and lots of coffee. LinkedIn | Twitter

0 Continue Reading →

Small Business Retail Ideas for Entrepreneurs

The Right Time to be a Retail Entrepreneur is 2017

With retail chain stores closing and Malls becoming less popular, it might be the perfect time to become a retail entrepreneur. Avoid the 9 to 5 grind and build a business you love.

Did you ever think of starting your own business? Why not.

As consumers are indicating they prefer small and more intimate in-store experiences, would be retail entrepreneurs are taking notice. There are a lot of small business ideas that relate directly to retail.


It’s a Whole New World: Retail Experiences Triumph

The rise of vape stores and cannabis outlets point to a future that’s not only more green; the new consumer is more attuned to independent retailers and local merchants.

For those professionals ready to quit their day or corporate jobs and become retail entrepreneurs, the grass might be greener on the other side.

As big box retailers are out competed by retail monopolies in what some are calling the retail apocalypse; this could actually be good for small local businesses.

We’ve long known that even younger shoppers prefer actually going to stores. However, it’s not always for buying, it’s for the holistic experience.

So let’s turn our attention to what kind of retail businesses are trending; and how and why a would-be entrepreneur or young professional might turn to retail as their go-to industry. In this world, there’s no shortage of small business retail ideas.


Cannabis retail stores are widely considered a huge future vertical of retail as regulations start to change and as consumers see more lax marijuana consumption as the new normal.

Vape & E-Cig Shops

Since 2010, you may have noticed vape stores popping up on main street and livening up the downtown of even the most rural town in North America. Vape is definately a huge market that’s also pending legislation that many believe will make it very mainstream.

The Charming Coffee Café

The different varieties of coffee cafés are endless and a great opportunity if you are a creative and customer friendly sort of retail entrepreneur. Here culture and experience is everything; and the ability to turn even the mundane set-up into a cozy charming environment.

We’ve seen many cafés that intersect with other hobbies and cultures; such as cycling and the arts. Nothing quite brings together a community and students like a good coffee café. They can also be started with less funds than many other kinds of retail businesses.

Handmade Items

With the rise of online marketplaces such as Etsy, Shopify and others; consumers now have access to hand-made items like never before. Merchants who are crafters are in particular, trending among the new consumers who are savvy shoppers who also want something tangible, original and that speaks to them as a customized product. Witness The Little Mew:

Wholesale Direct to Consumer Retail

The aspiring entrepreneur might want to think long and hard about selling goods directly to the consumer; typically one of the easiest ways of starting a business.

It will require a comprehensive business plan and a product that’s in demand; well made and marketed properly. The retail businesses gives you flexibility to create the kind of customer experience and set-up that’s also right for you and your family. Doing your homework and research can avoid some trial and error, but it will still be a process of learning.

Family Run Business

Many retail entrepreneurs opt to create the optimal life-work balance that is the family run retail small business. Building something from scratch with the combined resources of the family can be a very satisfying but challenging experience. Being business partners with a spouse may not be for everyone, and the same can be said about inheriting a multi-generational business, but it can also be an empowering opportunity.

Babies and Pregnant Women Clothes Retailing Business

A babies’s clothes and maternity retail store could be a great choice. Location and feasibility in your area will probably be a big consideration; but this could be a great concept to build upon as a retail entrepreneur.

Motherhood is beautiful and maternity stores can have incredible communities of learning, sharing and celebrating family.

The Fashion Boutique

Maybe the most popular idea for younger retail entrepreneurs is to have a boutique that adds some fashion to the neighborhood. Why not, all that is required is well a great location and the funds to stock your boutique with the kind of clothes you truly believe in.

Here the design, ambience and experience of the brand will play a big role in the customers you are able to attract and the kind of fashion accessories you decide on that will attract the best customers.

Kids Toy Retail Store

Toys is another great idea for a retail entrepreneur who likes to make a difference in their community. Children’s toys are so universal beloved in the United States and Canada, it’s hard to consider that these don’t bring exceptional value to local communities.

Location here again is crucial to the success of your business. While there is a large market for toys, having a wide selection of educational and special needs toys can also help serve niche audiences.

Becoming a Footwear Retail Outlet

People always need good local access to shoes, sandals, slippers, belts, hats and the like. As a footwear retailer you know that this can be a profitable business, that can also add relevant customer experiences and cater to a wide range of customer. From specialty boosts to shoes for running and sports; our footwear needs are nearly endless.

The intersection of fashion boutique and footwear is actually very interesting: shoes, sandals, wallets, hats, caps and leather work related to fashion can make for a very fine display.

Food Truck

In some parts of the U.S. there’s been a renaissance of late of food trucks. While not for everyone; there’s glamour and challenge to bring your unique food or recipe to the masses in this form. You can travel and cater to special events and festivals. There’s something unique about the adventurous retail entrepreneur who chooses the food truck adventure as their retail sport of choice.

The Tranquil Retail Entrepreneurs Would Open a Gift Shop

There’s something quite serene about opening a gift shop. If you live in an area where tourism is a big feature; this might be a great idea. Low stress, and high potential profits make the gift shop a place where you can truly hone in on your customer preferences and deliver an amazing customer experience.

Here you can indulge your craft sense for handmade products, while looking into novelty items from a wide range of cultures and styles which also celebrate the local area.

Another Popular Choice; The Hair Extensions and Hair Care Products

A great choice if you enjoy people (all the single ladies) is to offer hair care and products. Easy to start and manage, here is a product we all need sometimes desperate help with, our hair! There are so many styles it’s an interesting brand to manage and do marketing for. Being at an accessible, visible and busy location is always help for a service such as this.

For that Blue Collar Buzz; How About Opening a Beer Retailing Business?

Some of the most memorable places in towns and local areas are the pubs, bars and hang-out joins that are best known for their retailing of beers. The consumption of beer as a social lubricant makes this an almost universally accessible type of business.

A great pub can be a hot-spot for culture and social experiences for people in the area. A good beer parlor can be the home away from home for citizens that like to relax after a hard week working.


With some of the easiest point of sale solutions to use such as Vend, getting hooked upon with e-commerce with Shopify, or building cool stuff, 2017 is the perfect time to become a retail entrepreneur.

Michael Spencer is a content strategist, futurist and marketing consultant. He was named a 2016 LinkedIn Top Voice and blogs on technology trends as well as retail. He’s based in Montreal and manages social media branding for tech startups, in addition to blogging. LinkedIn | Twitter

0 Continue Reading →

Top Mother’s Day Ideas to Implement for Small Businesses Retailers

Mother’s Day is just around the corner, so what better time to start preparing and maximising your business strategy for the holiday?

This year Mother’s Day falls on May 14th, so here’s 14 top tips to get you started:

1. Email It All Out

Email is a fantastic and reliable way to remind your customers that Mother’s Day is approaching and that your company is a fantastic investment over the holiday. You could include a list of gift ideas, highlighting your most popular products over the holiday. Coupons, discounts and promotions are good to include as well to generate hype for Mother’s Day as well as your business. This ensures that consumers think of your business when they start buying gifts for Mom.

Even if you don’t have any special deals, products or promotions for your customers, tailoring your email marketing campaign with a Mother’s Day theme will establish interest and get customers looking at your business. Last minute email campaigns a few days before Mother’s Day is an excellent way to draw in procrastinators and get those last-minute sales.

2. Personalize your products and services

Being personal is one of the best things about Mother’s Day. So try personalizing your products. If you own a bakery, decorate your cakes with floral images or write “Mom” in tasty icing. If you offer makeovers, create your own Mother’s Day makeover, manicure or special treatment.

3. The Power of Social Media

Don’t underestimate social media. It is a great way to engage and reach a wider audience. Share your Mother’s Day products or events online and use it as a platform to spread your business ideas and company values.

Leverage popular #hashtags such as #MothersDay2017 trending on Twitter during the big day. Couple this with your own #hashtag, be it your brand name or something to engage customers like #LastMinuteMothersDayIdeas alongside your products that you offer. You could even create a social media campaign using #hashtags where clients and employees post selfies of their family.

Similarly, feature employee families on Instagram and create visual thank you quotes from your employees to their Moms. Try captioning their Mom’s favorite sayings to relevant images. You could even create Mother’s Day Facebook polls like ‘What I love most about my mum’, MEMES and quotes as a creative way to raise brand awareness and have fun during the holiday.

4. Offer Promotions

Who doesn’t love a good bargain? Especially Mom’s! After everything they do for us, it’s about time we gave something back.

Offer discounts just for Mom’s or if you know your clients are Mothers, offer a discounted invitation or gift card for them to purchase your products or experience.

Create a Mother’s Day coupon that offers select discounts on items.This will also allow you to track the performance of your seasonal marketing campaigns.

Another good idea is to launch a Mother’s Day giveaway. Not only will this help to raise awareness of your business and your promotions, it is also a fantastic way to gain new email subscribers!

5. Free Gift Wrapping

I know I’m not the only person who’s terrible at gift wrapping.

Free gift wrapping is always handy and welcomed by all, especially children or busy spouses organizing the big day. Not only does it save time, it looks professional and shows Mother’s that they are loved and deserve a treat.

6. Free Shipping

An easy way to boost your sales is to offer free shipping on selected Mother’s Day products that you’re promoting. It’s a fantastic incentive that will help you highlight and drive key products you want your customers to buy.

7. Create a “Bring your Mom” event in store

Host a special Mother’s Day event in your store, where moms are welcome. Make the event as child-friendly as possible to drive interest for the whole family. Often, the best gift for a mother is quality time with her children and this is exactly what you can provide!

Encourage mothers and their children to come to your store or enjoy your services by offering selected discounts. For example, a beauty shop could launch a promotional event like ‘Pamper your Mom with 20% discount in-store’. It’s a great way to build relationships, show customers that you care, and give existing consumers reasons to come back to your store.

8. Create a Mother’s Day Gift Guide

Let’s be realistic: some moms are extremely hard to buy for. Every year we struggle finding the perfect present. So why not make it easier?

For those still shopping, make it convenient for them by setting up a Gift Guide on your website featuring your top 5 products, services or experiences for Mother’s Day.

A good idea is to assist shoppers by giving them ideas based on what type of mom they are buying for. A gift guide should therefore target different persona’s: the book-loving mom, a yoga goer or a caffeine addict.

9. Bundle Mom’s Favorite Items

Offer bundled items for the gift-giver to give to Mom. This saves customers lots of time, money and can create a memorable, fun shopping experience along the way.

Remember to think outside the box, or the bundle so to speak. Offer promotions online or in your store to engage consumers in your products.

10. Create a Loyalty Points Accelerator Day or Weekend

A great way to boost sales is to celebrate Mother’s Day during an accelerated weekend or day of sales and discounts. This generates hype, incentivises your customers and boost sales.

More importantly, if you offer loyalty points for their next purchase in-store or online, this can encourage future investment in your business.

11. Get Personal

Mother’s Day isn’t just about gift giving. It’s also about appreciating what your Mom’s do for you. So what better way to do this than sharing stories about your mom?

Being personal comes hand in hand with small business’ and allows your company to identify and build relationships with your clients. The heart-warming tales of Mother’s play a big role in the occasion and asking customers to share their stories is a great way to engage the public.

Consider offering prizes for the best stories such as a Spa-day for two, a makeover, a gift card for your store or a free giveaway from your product range. All participants need to do is share why their mom should receive the prize.

12. Involve Your Local Community

Get in touch with retailers in your area, preferably one’s the compliment your business or offer something related to Mother’s Day. See if they are willing to stock gift cards or coupons in their location. You could even create contests with your partner retailers where customers share their Mother’s Day stories and win a gift pack filled with goodies from both businesses.

Doing this is a win-win for both parties. You encourage customers to spend more while getting added exposure and more customers from your local area.

13. Have Special Mother’s Day Sections in Your Store or Online

Convenience for your customers is key. Make it easier for Mother’s Day shoppers to find their perfect gift by having a separate and exclusive section for the holiday.

Not only will this make the shopping experience easier, it is also a great way to boost sales during the occasion.

You can also have specific areas in your store, highlighting “Just For Her” offers and discounts.

As customers can find all their mom-centric products in one place, it could even lead to them buying more if the products are so easy to find!

14. Promote Content Outside of Selling

Does an organization that supports women or mothers fit your business? Why not consider donating some of your Mother’s Day profits to the charity or cause?

But most importantly, let your customers know your business is doing its best to spread some goodwill.

Another idea is to share Mother’s Day content such as ‘The Perfect Mother’s Day Breakfast’, dessert ideas or ‘How to write a poem for mom’. Not everyone is going to buy from your store so why not inspire and aim at building lasting relationships with your customers. It could encourage future investment.

There are lots of ways for you and your business to celebrate Mother’s Day. All it needs is a little creativity!

Sarah Jane Callender is a Freelance writer and student at Lancaster University studying Politics and English Literature. Sarah enjoys championing small businesses and is interested in digitalization, the gig economy and its impact on politics and economics. With a passion for travelling, she rarely likes to stay in the same place for long but loves the comfort of home. LinkedIn | Twitter

0 Continue Reading →

Top 6 maternity and toy stores

At Star Cloud, we are passionate advocates of small businesses whom we feature on a daily basis on both Facebook and Instagram.

Come and share our celebration of local and independent small businesses for babies.

The Giving Tree Children’s Boutique

The Giving Tree Children’s Boutique, in New London, Minnesota, specializes in quality, unique baby’s and children’s clothing in sizes newborn – 12. They also carry a wonderful selection of classic wooden and educational toys, books and gifts for all ages.

You will always be welcomed with a smile, and your children will be welcome as well. There is a small play area and salt water aquarium for their amusement while parents are free to browse and shop! You’ll enjoy your visit to The Tree!

Facebook | Website

Arkansas Baby LLC

Arkansas Baby LLC, in Little Rock, is a children’s boutique that provides a selection of natural products like cloth diapers and environmentally-conscious diapering options, toys free from harsh chemicals and heavy metals, as well as homeopathic remedies and personal care items for both the natural mom and baby.

Natural items for diapering, play, and wellness — how wonderful!

Facebook | Website | Instagram

Le Gribouillis

What a genius idea it was to create a place — in Levis and Val-Belair, Quebec City, Quebec — especially for mothers who want to get out and meet and chat with other … adults!

While moms can have a tisane, coffee or freshly-made smoothie, and relax, exchange ideas, and laugh, their babies and young children can sleep, meet, and play in areas specially designed to meet their needs.

Services offered include beverages, snacks, light meals, a shop, special workshops and events for mothers and mothers-to-be, and haircuts on Mondays.

Enchanting for babies, toddlers, and young children. A favorite spot for mothers and mothers-to-be: 177 reviewers have awarded Le Griboullis a rating of 5.0!

Facebook | Website | Instagram

Photopia Studios

Some of our sweetest memories are evoked by photos of our babies and children. And truly great photographs are created not taken, says owner-photographer Cliff of Photopia Studios, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

With his creative talent, awesome skills, and loads of charm with babies and children, the results will be memories you’ll love forever.

Facebook | Instagram Website

Kids Emporium by Lazy Francis

Kids Emporium by Lazy Francis, in Chelsea, London, UK, is a special baby and children’s boutique offering clothes, accessories, shoes, toys and gifts.
Clothing spans basics and casuals through to special occasion and luxury kidswear for 0-12 years, alongside footwear, accessories, toys, gifts and interior design pieces.

Here you will find exquisite choice and variety for every occasion in a child’s life and for all types of customer, taste, budget and need, with regular arrivals of new and exciting hand-picked brands.

Facebook | Instagram Website

The Magical Toy Shoppe

The Magical Toy Shoppe, in Lexington, Kentucky, is a toy store where children can explore and play — a great shopping experience for both kids and adults! Their goal is to carry high-quality unique toys for every child.

There’s a great selection for children of all ages, from toys for infants to baby dolls and games, from craft kits to sleds, and magical educational toys and books, too. Rated 5.0

Facebook | Instagram Website

Small businesses like these enchant us. They inspire us. They fuel our communities.

By shopping locally we are contributing to our local economies, supporting family businesses and making a difference. We hope you have enjoyed their stories of Baby Love.

Ching Ching Wang is a marketing intern and student at Concordia University. She’s building skills and experience at the intersection of data management, analytics, and marketing. Constantly learning, always curious, she combine a DIY mentality to problem-solving. Ching Ching is also a self-starter and is working on a YouTube video channel, and has a wide variety of interests such as communications, international business, world religion and mindfulness practices. LinkedIn | Twitter

0 Continue Reading →