This article first appeared on September 14th, 2010.
I have started a retailing business and have begun to get a decent number of consumers in through the door.
However, I don’t really have any sort of online presence. Is it worth me spending my scarce time and money on developing eCommerce?
If so, how can I do it effectively?
As Woody Allen once said: “80% of success is showing up”.
While the vast majority of purchase transactions still take place in physical stores, a very large percentage of purchase decisions happen online. More often than not, consumer purchase journeys begin at Google.
Regardless of the type of retail business you operate, you should (at the very least) maintain a basic online presence that includes product information that can be indexed by Google, and contact details linked to Google Maps.
Content is the most important aspect of this first step online. Design and technology can help, but the web foremost rewards compelling content that promotes unique products.
Who are your customers?
There are an increasing number of people that live almost permanently online. For members of this tribe, decisions are not made without first consulting Google, their mobile device or favourite social network.
Do you have customers that fall into this category?
The more the digital tribe overlaps with your customer base, the greater the opportunity for you to supercharge your business by investing time and money online.
What is your unique offer?
While there are more than a few online retail entrepreneurs listed in the BRW Young Rich List who have worked their way to success starting with an eBay store, some of our most successful retailers (think Gerry Harvey) are doing just fine without a strong online offer.
Unless you have a passion for online, it would be wise to stop and think about the characteristics and success factors of your current business before investing in a more sophisticated offer.
If (for example) your business success is based around convenience items sold in prime locations, developing an online channel may not enhance your existing strategy.
However, if you sell unique, specialist products that people research prior to purchase, investing in a more sophisticated online presence is likely to pay dividends.
Get hands on
Just like conventional retail, successful online retail requires staying close to customers, a compelling product offer and great service.
The difference is a new set of tools to master and integrate, such as product databases, content management, email, natural and paid search, affiliates and social media.
Experts can help build and manage the tools and lay foundations; however getting hands on to connect your products with your customers is what matters most.
Online retailing is still in its infancy. Smaller players have an advantage over larger competitors due to their ability to adapt quickly and stay close to customers.
If you are serious about developing an online channel I suggest starting slowly. Invest in your own education before investing capital in expensive infrastructure.
Be realistic about returns from your online channel in the first year or two as you learn the ropes.
Experience and learnings for your unique business situation will prove invaluable over the longer term.