I get asked this question a lot by business owners.
Should I be selling my products online?
The Weekend Australian ran a couple of stories about the surge in online shopping and the damage its doing to traditional retail outlets.
Business research firm Frost & Sullivan calculates that Australians will spend $12 billion online this year: $536 for every person. Fashion, music and toy outlets fear the surging popularity of online shopping could ruin crucial Christmas sales. ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman said some customers were now trying to barter with retailers by threatening to buy online instead.
So the question is should you as a traditional in-store retail businesses owner be using your websites to sell your products online?
Before you fly headlong into making your products available for sale online or worrying yourself silly about it, take a minute to consider these questions.
- Do I have the staff to physically load my entire product line to my site?
- Do I have the staff to keep those products up-to-date? Stock levels, prices etc.
- Do I have the staff and physical facilities to process online orders, pack and dispatch them the same day?
- Do I have the capital to under take a substantial national ongoing media advertising campaign?
- Am I willing and able to offer those products at a substantially discounted price to the same products sold in my store?
- Do I appreciate that when I sell online, my competition is no longer just those in my physical area , but its the whole State, country and possibly even global.
If you are still unsure ask yourself:
- What is the target market I’m trying to reach? If your target market is your suburb or town – forget it, use your site to help people do their product (or service) research and bring people into your store.
- Are the products I sell easily shipped, like a book, cosmetics or electronics. If they are large items you have the freight to factor into the final delivered price.
- Are my products specialty items that are not readily available in stores or are they a commodity? If you sell items that are readily available in stores your only point of difference online is price.
They are all of the things to consider even before you get to thinking about building and developing a first class point-of-sale website. If you do get that far then there are these web design issues to ponder:
- Website Design and layout.
- Shopping Cart technology.
- Oline SSL encrypted security certificates required to accept credit card payments.
- Payment Gateways
- Back-end functionality – like stock level management, bulk product uploading facilities.
Just to name a few of the obvious.
Once the site is built and the products loaded , pricing set at attractive levels and your shipping facilities are in place then you must mass market your site. This involves advertising and promotion way beyond anything you may have done on a local level.
You have probably worked out by now that I believe a full blown online shopping site is beyond the scope and means of 99% of small to medium businesses. In fact its an entirely different business model and one in which:
- To be successful you will invest far more that you currently have invested in your in-store business.
- Will take years , perhaps a decade, if ever, to bring it to profitability.
- The chances of succeeding are slim with unlimited competition, unless you have ‘first mover’ advantage in your field.
So unless you prepared to invest a sizable amount of money and spend years building a successful online retailing business – don’t. The internet is littered with the wrecks of failed shopping sites. Instead concentrate on your in-store business and use your website to:
- showcase your in-store products to visitors
- Highlite your specials so that you can use your site to make your existing marketing more cost effective.
- Give visitors lots of information, to aid their shopping / buying research
- Then make it easy for them to contact you, find your store and see that you are real live people.
All of that is so important and relevant to your in-store business, because recent research shows that
- 83 percent of consumers are more confident about making a purchase decision when conducting research online vs. speaking to a salesperson in a store.
- And 79 percent report saving more time doing research online compared with in-store research.
The vast majority of businesses would be far better served making their site a first class first point of contact and making it a true representation of their business and store. Give the visitor heaps of information, a great visual presentation to help them make informed choices. Then using their site to make it really easy for users to contact the business staff and find the store.