When you think about businesses using the cloud, chances are your neighborhood bookstore or clothing store isn’t among the first to come to mind. A recent survey on cloud usage supports my theory, showing only 16% of small and midsize retailers currently use the cloud.

However, as an avid cloud watcher, I believe this statistic is changing rapidly. As I wrote in my last post, small businesses as a whole are overwhelmingly embracing the cloud. Retailers could clearly benefit from taking their business to the cloud. This videographic illustrates some interesting opportunities for retailers and other businesses. Here are a few examples highlighted in the video.

Brick-and-mortar store: Manage better

For many brick-and-mortar retailers, tracking inventory can be an ongoing challenge. When you’re busy selling, it can be difficult to know which products are in stock at any given time and even harder to keep websites updated so customers can find what they want when they visit.

Storing product data in the cloud can give you a clear picture of your inventory. Employees may even be able to access the inventory list on their smartphones, so they don’t need to go to a computer to find the information. By hosting your website in the cloud, you also gain access to sophisticated software that can help you update your site on the fly and improve customer experiences.

Store with multiple locations: Improve service

Stores with more than one location can find it hard to stay in sync. They need to be sure that each store runs the same promotions and that they can move inventory quickly between stores. Last year, when I was shopping for a book for my best friend’s birthday, I remember being told I could find it at the bookstore’s second location across town. However, once I drove there, I learned it was out of stock. I wasn’t happy, especially since I had 3 kids with me. I’m sure other customers in the same situation wouldn’t be either.

The cloud can help you improve customer service by facilitating communication among stores. Staff can use the cloud’s file-sharing capabilities to update documents in real time, such as lists of new products and upcoming promotions. They can use online conferencing to hold virtual meetings. And they can keep customers informed through dependable cloud-based email without having to worry about email servers.

Online retailer: Scale automatically

One complaint I hear from online retailers is that they need to maintain servers year-round, even if their peak sales period comes just one or two times a year. Powering these servers and trying to troubleshoot when things go wrong can be costly and time-consuming.

Placing your online retail operations in the cloud can help eliminate these challenges. Because the cloud scales up and down automatically to meet demand, you can handle surges while paying only for the capacity you use. You don’t even need to think about it, and you won’t have to install or troubleshoot another server again.

Wholesaler: Sharpen focus

Small wholesalers are facing intense competition from bigger players. The key to success is often finding a niche and providing superior products and service.

The cloud is a great tool to help refine your strategic focus. Using its vast data storage capabilities and analytics software, you can easily identify your most successful product categories, which can provide ideas for similar offerings. You can also identify nonperforming categories. This stronger market differentiation can help you win—and keep—customers whose needs may be ignored by bigger wholesalers.

I strongly believe that the retailers who move to the cloud first can gain a competitive edge. If you’re using the cloud, I would be interested in hearing about your experiences. If you’re not, what’s keeping you from making the move? Share your story below.