Small Business

Bringing the Mom and Pop Shop into the Digital Age

Share to Facebook
Share to LinkedIn
Share to Twitter
Share to Email
Share to Pinterest
Share to Email

You’ve heard this story before – a local business that thrived for decades is now struggling to keep its doors open. Its customers, who the shop owners relied on for steady business, now flock to large chains and online retailers in search of cheaper prices and two-day shipping.

As mom and pop shops across the United States struggle for survival, longtime business owners are asking themselves, is this the end for us little guys?

While it seems that small businesses are on the decline, here are the facts:

  • 90% of U.S. businesses are family-owned1
  • Family businesses account for 78% of new jobs created and 64% of U.S. GDP1
  • Small business sales are growing - their net profit grew by 7.5% in 2015 (up from 6.4% in the previous year)2
  • Annual revenue for independent restaurants is expected to grow 5% through 2020 (compared to 3% for chains)3

With this in mind, how can small businesses, with changing customer habits and unprecedented competition, not only compete against larger businesses, but also win?

Easy – by evolving alongside their customers and embracing marketing in the digital age.

If your business is struggling to stay afloat, here are five digital strategies you can use to level the playing field.

Two-thirds of consumers conduct research online before making a purchase within a physical store.

1. Attract new customers with an online storefront.

Potential customers may learn that you sell derby hats by walking past your storefront, but without an online presence, you are invisible to the online population.

Two-thirds of consumers conduct research online before making a purchase within a physical store4. Without a website, the majority of consumers will never learn that your business provides the solution to their needs.

The first step to building an online presence is making a website. If you want to do this yourself, there are many online resources that will help. Regardless of which resource you choose, aim to have a website that is:

  • Search Engine Optimized, allowing customers to quickly find you on search engines such as Google or Bing
  • Mobile-friendly, which allows customers to easily view your website on mobile devices
  • Informative, so customers know what to expect when visiting your physical storefront

If building a website makes you nervous, consider hiring a digital team to do the heavy lifting for you. Just ensure your website can be easily updated so you can make changes without the help of a developer.

2. Differentiate your business by emphasizing your advantages.

Think mom and pop shops have no advantages over large businesses?

Think again.

Amazon’s customers may be addicted to two-day shipping, but customers still love the convenience of a same-day pickup.

As a small business owner, it is your job to identify these advantages and emphasize them throughout your website.

Some advantages may include:

  • Convenience: Does your store have an outstanding return policy or complimentary gift wrap? Perhaps your customers never have to wait in line because of your mobile point-of-sale system. Identify these points and emphasize them.
  • Expertise: Have you ever asked a big-box employee for advice on a home improvement project? While these friendly associates mean well, nothing beats the expertise of a shop owner with decades of experience. Highlight your team’s experience and expertise.
  • Community Character: If customers are searching for specialty products, a shopping mall is likely not at the top of their list. Shoppers on the hunt for unique items prefer stores that reflect the character of the local community and products they’re unlikely to find anywhere else. Use these advantages to your benefit.
  • Neighborhood Involvement: If your business gives back to the local community, be sure to promote this. American customers love supporting causes and 89% of consumers would switch brands in order to be associated with a good cause4.

3. Bring in additional foot traffic through paid advertising.

It’s not enough to have a great website – you also need to ensure your website is in front of customers when they need it.

While SEO increases the likelihood that your website will appear higher within search engine rankings, paid advertisements ensure your website will be at the top of the list.

To get started, read Hubspot’s beginner’s guide to pay-per-click advertising. Remember, if the material is too daunting, consider hiring a team to manage digital advertisements for you.

Before starting a social media account, learn where your customers are spending their time.

4. Use email marketing to convert visitors into repeat customers.

Now that you understand how to use digital marketing to get new customers, it’s time to tackle your next problem: getting your new customers to come back. An easy tool for converting visitors into repeat customers is email marketing.

To get started:

  1. Select an email provider. Then, set up a system for capturing email addresses. (For example: use an email-based rewards program or a simple paper-and-pen newsletter sign-up.)
  2. Next, put together a campaign that’s easy to digest within 11 seconds (the average time users spend reading an email5).
  3. But, before you click “Send” – make sure you personalize emails according to what your customers want to receive! Irrelevant, catch-all email “blasts” are sure to be reported as spam.
    One easy process for personalizing emails is to:
  1. Ask customers which types of emails they prefer to receive. (Community events? Store promotions? New products?)
  2. Segment your email database according to these categories.

Although personalized emails take more effort, the payoff is worth it – personalized emails always deliver higher conversions than emails that aren’t.

5. Be friendly… and social.

Social media is no longer just an avenue for sharing cat photos. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have become an essential tool for digital marketing.

Before starting an account, learn where your customers are spending their time. If you start a Snapchat account, but all of your customers use Facebook, your social efforts will be a waste of time.

For an easy guide on how to get started, read Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to Social Media.

Get Started Now

While the plethora of digital tools may seem daunting, the most important takeaway is to get started today so your business is visible to digital consumers. Remember, you can always hire a professional to guide you as you acclimate to new technology.

No matter the size of your business, or where you are going, our business banking products offer solutions to help get you there. Explore your options on our Small Business Banking website


1. Pickard-Whitehead, Gabrielle, “Debunking Myths About Mom and Pop Shops (INFOGRAPHIC),” Small Business Trends, March 29, 2017,

2. Biery, Mary Ellen, “The State Of U.S. Small Businesses Entering 2016,” Forbes, January 17, 2016,

3. Patton, Leslie, “Mom-and-Pop Joints Are Trouncing America's Big Restaurant Chains,” Bloomberg L.P., May 16, 2017,

4. “Americans Willing To Buy Or Boycott Companies Based On Corporate Values, According To New Research By Cone Communications,” Cone Communications – Press Release, May 17, 2017,

5. White, Chad, “Email Attention Spans Increasing [Infographic],” Litmus, March 8, 2017,

Bringing the Mom and Pop Shop into the Digital Age

This blog post was published by Axos Bank on February 21, 2019 and last updated on February 25, 2019

Get Axos Digest
Sign up to receive insightful content every two weeks.