eTailing vs. Retailing:
How Quickly Should You Take Your Retail Business Online?
By Richard Parker: President of The Resource Center for A Retail Business™ and author of How To Buy A Good Retail Business At A Great Price© .
A client of mine was about to buy his first store. That’s when a cousin of his buttonholed him and delivered a dose of “standard retail wisdom” that went something like this:
“Start selling online as fast as you can. There a millions and millions of customers out there, so don’t dawdle before you set up your Website and start selling over the Net. Make it your FIRST PRIORITY!”
Is that good advice or not? My answer to that question is, “It depends.” I realize that seems like a wishy-washy answer, but the fact is that some stores will do very well selling online, and others won’t.
Here are some questions to ask before you jump to take your store online:
- Can I compete effectively against other Internet merchants? Sure, you could buy a bookstore and then start selling books over the Internet. But Amazon.com and the other bookselling gorillas are already there. You would probably be better advised to apply other strategies for growing your bookstore first – such as having a lot of authors sign their books at your store, or setting up some book groups where your customers can discuss the books they are reading, etc. You need to identify, and go with, your particular competitive advantage.
- Do I offer niche products? The book example above brings up another great point. Niche items do brilliantly online. So, if you were for example buying a bookstore that sells rare, out-of-print, or other sought after pieces, then offering the products online would be a natural.
- Are my products good Internet offerings? Do they require assembly? Are they difficult, or prohibitively expensive, to ship? And do people really want to buy what you are selling online? I wouldn’t buy a bicycle that I had never ridden or a washing machine I had never seen - would you? At the same time, I have to say that people are buying a wider variety of products online than I thought possible – products like flowers, cheese and coffee.
- Is building an Internet store really my top priority in the early days that I own my new business? Remember, you will have tons of other things to do after buying your business. You’ll have to review inventory, meet with vendors, figure out personnel issues, update computer systems – and lots more. Even though “tekkie-type” friends and consultants might be pressuring you to start selling on the Internet, it is up to you to decide whether doing so really is a high priority for you. And bear in mind, setting up an Internet enterprise is pretty complicated. You need a Website, of course, but also an Internet shopping cart, an Internet back account – and lots more. No matter what anybody tells you, an online store is never a “turnkey operation.”
What about an Informational Website?
Even if you won’t be selling your products online, it is a good idea to set up a Website for your business. On it, you can highlight the products and services that you offer and, of course, provide your email address and phone information so that customers can contact you. Just be certain to optimize your site by using text strings that will be found by people who are looking for what you sell, where you sell it. Example: Use the words “New Jersey awnings” if you sell awnings in New Jersey.
Once your Website is in place, you can roll it out with some extra features, such as an electronic newsletter that you send to people who ask for it, a blog - or other bells and whistles.
Just remember to keep the horse ahead of the cart. No matter what some “expert” tells you about the urgency of taking your store online, remember that the Internet will be there when you need it. It is not going away, only getting better. That means that there is no bad time to build your presence online as an Internet retailer. The timing is up to you.
This article represents a fraction of what you’ll learn in How To Buy A Good Retail Business At A Great Price© - the most widely used reference resource and strategy guide for anyone thinking about buying a retail store. Read a detailed listing of what you'll learn.