Small, brick-and-mortar retailers should also sell online to stay competitive and meet customer expectations.
Ecommerce and physical-retail commerce are merging; businesses that exist in shopping centers and malls are expected to be represented online too. But many small brick-and-mortar stores do not yet offer ecommerce.
For those struggling to get online, consider that there are at least four good reasons for small, brick-and-mortar retailers to sell online too, including customer expectations, ease of shopping, the social nature of online shopping, and customer service.
Your Customers Are Already Online
Most consumers are already shopping and searching for products online. If your store isn’t ecommerce enabled, it is behind your competition.
In an April 2013 study, the consulting firm Accenture found that 88 percent of shoppers have looked online for products before deciding to go into a physical store to make a purchase, making “webrooming” significantly more popular that “showrooming.”
Similarly, a 2013 study from Google Think, which focused on 2013 holiday shopping preferences, found that 79 percent of shoppers believed that the Internet, and presumably ecommerce-enabled sites with product catalogs, is the single most useful resource for holiday shopping. If that sort of preference carries over to other times of the year, it would seem that an online retail presence is a must.
Some Items Are Just Easier Online
There are some items that are simply a lot easier to buy and sell online. Just ask Staples, which has seen good growth in ecommerce, but is closing 255 stores over the next couple of years.
If an item is something that is consumed, like paper, pens, or other office supplies, it can be a lot easier to order online. As an example, if I know that my company always uses Wausau Paper’s number 40311 white printer paper, and I know that I am down to a couple of reams, it is simply easier to go to Quickshop, The Supply Tree, or OfficeWorld online to order the paper. It would be silly to take the additional time required to drive to an office supply store just to get the paper, unless I were buying in massive quantities that made shipping unrealistic.
There are also so-called long-tail items that are much easier to find online. For example, try to find a copy of Murray J. Harris’ book, Raised Immortal: Resurrection and Immortality in the New Testament, at your local big box bookstore. The text is actually required reading for some theology students, but is much easier to find on Amazon than it is in any brick-and-mortar shop.
Some regional items, may also be easier to purchase online. If you are a Green Bay Packers fan living in Calif., odd are that you will find a better selection of Green Bay Packers apparel and gear online then you will at the local mall.
Small brick-and-mortar retailers should look at the products they sell and simply ask if some of those items are ripe for ecommerce.
Online Shopping Is Social
There are some who say that when we shop online, we lose something, some kind of a social experience had only from going to a store, walking the aisles, and touching the things we buy before we buy them. There is a sense in which this is true, but online shopping is social too, and as a social experience online shopping has the potential to reach a much larger audience.
One of the best examples of just how social online shopping can be comes from the varied and many boards on Pinterest. For example, search for “wedding” on Pinterest and you will find thousands of ideas, crafts, and — to my point — products that can and are purchased. Pinterest users are sharing the items they want and the items they dream of in a social way online. If a merchant doesn’t have an online catalog, that merchant is missing out.
For another example, look at the “Shoe Game” board. Many of the pins link directly back to an online retail store. These are not things that the stores themselves or pinning, but items that interested shoppers have shared online.
Finally, consider the opportunity to provide better customer service.
An online store can be a great extension to a retailer’s customer service offering, adding to the customer service already provided in store or over the phone. An online store can offer a frequently-asked-questions section so that shoppers can find solutions even after regular store hours. Some online retailers are even using live chat to answer customer questions and concerns.
Anytime that you can make it easier for shoppers to get information about anything — from inventory levels to return policies — you are helping to improve customer service.