Huge e-commerce conglomerates hold a number of advantages over smaller retailers, having already established brand awareness, trust and reputation.

However, these attributes are not exclusive to national and international brands. Digital affords you with the chance to utilise what makes your retail offering unique to grow and sustain success.

Here are three ways for local retailers to engage customers effectively:

Use your local knowledge to target locals

Any organisation can use social media optimisation tools to target customers according to geographical location, but local organisations have an opportunity to use their specific knowledge of the area to build strong ties with prospective customers.

Larger organisations have to invest time and staff to garner data about particular areas, and can still make mistakes, especially when international organisations attempt to ‘go local’ on a global scale. Local brands, on other hand, already have the depth of knowledge and natural insight to be able to tune in to what matters to your customers.

Key local knowledge is especially useful in social media and direct communications such as email, to foster a sense of familiarity and trust in your customers. Their stomping grounds are yours too, recasting you and your customer as compatriots and paving the way for open, reciprocal communications and relations.

Foster a different kind of loyalty

Over the last few years, retailers have invested heavily in personalisation in a bid to connect with their audience. As a local retailer, you can connect with your customers on an individual level in a way that huge retailers cannot achieve, due to the size of their customer base. You have the opportunity to establish bonds by thanks customers personally, checking they are pleased with their experience, and maintaining engagement to prolong the relationship. Using social to do this will raise your visibility amongst other people in the area, allowing you to cultivate digital word-of-mouth.

Additionally, you can use social to interact with other local businesses and retailers to give you greater visibility within the local community.

Humanise your brand

Providing a human face to your brand is an easy win for small retailers. Ensure that all direct communication, such as email, is sent with an actual name sign-off, rather than with a faceless company signature at the end. A general brand signature is more likely to end the conversation, but your customers will be more likely to engage with a named representative.

You can use social media to further present a human face to your organisation - provide behind-the-scenes insights into what goes on, how products are made and distributed, and who the team are and what they do. This not only nurtures a sense of openness and authenticity, but is a good way of safeguarding against possible future issues or mistakes.

Big brands can foster loyalty quickly but also lose it just as fast - a faceless organisation is easy to vilify and even boycott if they mess up; their apologies easy to dismiss. Smaller organisations, providing personal apologies from familiar faces, are less likely to be met with such contempt.

Ultimately, people are easier to trust than brands. By putting a face to your communications, you can build the type of trust that generates long-term custom.

Encourage reviews from existing customers

A recent study has revealed the true power of online reviews and ratings in building up a reputation, with 88% of people basing their final decision on the reviews available and, crucially, 72% of consumers stating that positive online reviews make them trust local businesses more.

Make it quick and simple for your customers to leave reviews on your site, and keep a friendly tone: ‘We want to hear from you! Were you happy with your order?’ rather than ‘Please leave a review of your items.’ Include a review prompt in order follow-up emails, and, if possible, encourage them to tell their story - ‘Was it a birthday present? Food for an event?’ to inspire potential customers, rather than simply ‘Product arrived on time, good condition.’