Do you really know your competition?

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Knowing who your competitors are is a basic part of marketing your business. Sometimes that is easy – you can look up and down the streets of your community and figure out who has the same products or services for sale. Other times it is more complicated. There may be online competitors (Amazon, for example) that are not as evident, or there may be out-of-town competitors who are also coming into your market area.

But there are other things that compete for your business, things you may not have thought about. Restaurants, entertainment venues, the arts and similar businesses are especially at risk for some stealth competitors that you may not have considered. Leisure activities are increasingly being done online as the internet offers many more real-time entertainment options. In addition to movies, TV shows and games, you can also participate in hang outs, web chats and other live activities. You can watch a first-run movie, a live symphony performance, or a jazz dance performance on demand while sitting in front of your TV, your desktop computer or your smartphone andĀ tablet. Mobile, handheld entertainment is a growing part of our everyday livesĀ and it is competing with your business.

How does an online movie compete with your retail outlet? Because it takes away the time that your customer might otherwise have spent shopping at your store. Customers obviously have limited free time and the convenience of shopping or consuming entertainment from home is a competitor you cannot afford to ignore.

So how do you compete? Provide an engaging, quality experience for your customers. Knowing that consumers are interested in an experience means that the way you approach and interact with them may have to change. Make sure that your retail space is clean, approachable, modern-looking, and attractive. Encourage staff to be friendly and learn about the customers, so they can better meet their needs. Standing behind a counter and waiting for customers to come to you is the old way of doing business. Today’s consumers want information, choices and advice from others.

If you don’t already have a strong online presence that encourages reviews from customers, I encourage you to develop that. Connect your customers with review sites like Angie’s List, Google + and Facebook to make it easier. Or, you can deploy an a widget on your website that allows them to post right there.

Thinking “outside the box” means getting creative about understanding what you are really competing with. It’s not just the obvious anymore.