Is It E-tailing or Retailing?

by Tom Shay

Why you should be making the Internet a part of your business.

Only if you make a point to refuse to read the financial newspapers, or the business section of a local or national newspaper, would you be reading for the first time that window coverings are being sold via the Internet. There are companies whose sole purpose is to sell some of the same window coverings you are selling with the promise of having quick delivery, no need to drive to the store, or to endure uneducated employees. Their only disadvantage is the fact the customer has to wait a few days for delivery.

And for a price, certain products can be delivered the next day if the order is placed by early afternoon. There are others in the Internet market who think the "e-tail" window covering business is so lucrative that they are adding window coverings to their product line. It is as simple as "click and select, click and pay". If this is how the situation truly is, it will only be a matter of time before every decorator, and window covering business has closed their doors permanently.

Granted there will be items you sell, such as paints, lamps, and other home furnishings that a consumer will not be willing to wait for delivery from an Internet firm. But, with the few items that would be left, these items would be easily available from other retail outlets. The time for the completion of this transition would come closer and closer with the arrival of a computer in each home or office. As early as the age of three, children will be finding a computer under the Christmas tree, and beginning to learn to sign on and click.

For most retailers reading this column, this scenario is not true. And for those retailers whose stores would fulfill this prophecy, the world of retailing will be better off when they do close. They give a bad name to retailing, and their poor customer service combined with their poorly merchandised and operated store, drive customers all the more quickly to the Internet. Does this mean the opposite is true; that retailers can ignore the Internet, expecting that the price shopping customer, (the one we really don't care about), is the only one going to shop in the window covering stores of the Internet?



The answer here is no. The answer for the retailer who has been a "brick and mortar" retailer for many years, is that there is room to become a more successful retailer by becoming a "click and mortar" retailer. You may be the retailer who struggles to understand the Internet or even a computer, but this does not mean you need to be left out.

Let's first spend a few minutes in your store. Many years ago, JC Penney was quoted as having said, "There will always be room in the marketplace for a business which provides the personal interaction and product knowledge. But if you try to get into the game with us, we will crush you." Granted when he said this, he was talking about his type of store, and your ability to provide that personal service. The category killer, big box store had not yet been invented. Neither had the Internet.

When the customer walks into your store, is there a very noticeable difference in the way you display merchandise, the way people can examine the window treatments, paints, and floor coverings you sell. You also have the knowledge about the products you sell, and what the other stores offer customers? Undoubtedly, you have read many articles emphasizing customer service and a customer friendly store. The need has never been more crucial. If your employees do not know customers on a first name basis, or if your store looks more like the department within one of the big box stores, then there is little difference in you and the competition. And with little difference between you and the other retailers, price and the ability to stay at home to order can come into play.

Still, what can you do with the Internet? Your store of the "dot com" world starts with creating a simple website. And from the experiences of this writer, if people quoting prices for creating your website are mentioning prices of $5,000 or more, you need to relook at the complexity of your website, and you probably need to look for someone else to build it. A beginning website should only be a few hundred dollars. It can start with only a few pages, and photos showing the various product lines you carry. From this start you can progress to having a toll free order line, a "shopping cart" page for customers to buy products on line, and even an electronic newsletter.

With a website, you can draw customers from around the community, and around the world. But if you have visions of these sales, you must have several things. One, is products which the vast majority of retailers do not stock. The second is the right "keywords" on your website, and the third is information about the customers who have been buying these window coverings from you. With the first group, unique products, the "jury" is still out with regard to what people will buy on the Internet. Somehow, it does not seem feasible to expect someone to order a gallon of paint on the Internet. And shipping this item to a distant customer could become cost prohibitive. However, if you sell a unique line of painting accessories, then you probably have an Internet sellable situation.

A brief explanation on keywords; these are the "lighthouses" of the Internet which show Internet surfers how to find you. The ability to create these lighthouse words should be a vital skill of the person selected to build your website. And you will know if you have chosen the right person, when you go looking on the Internet for the products you are selling, and the list of web sites has your store among the first ten locations. Of course, if you sell carpet, paint, lamps, and other home furnishings, you will want to establish "lighthouses" for each of these categories as well.

The list of potential customers is important because it allows you to assist customers to more easily shop your store - whether in person or through the Internet. In addition to gathering names and addresses, if your website subscribes to a web tracking service such as WebTrends, you will see where the customers that came to your site live, what they were looking for, how long they visited your site, and other bits of personal information that allow you to continually fine tune your site.

The progressive retailer is creating a monthly electronic newsletter, and a print newsletter that are both sent to customers each month. Why would any customer shop elsewhere? If the customer lives in the area of your store, they might want to visit your store after having found you on the Internet, so they can see and touch the window coverings and accessories you sell. If customers do not live near your store, they can still buy because they can see detailed pictures of the products on your website.

You may be a small town business, which has existed in the same brick and mortar building for the past fifty years, and now you have a branch store on the Internet. Your store can become one of the leaders in the coming generation of "click and mortar" retailers.

Do you have to be on the Internet? No, not yet. But why would you want to wait to find out you should have started the new millennium with a store on the Internet?

  • Internet selling is not reserved for only the larger businesses
  • Websites do not have to be complex or expensive
  • Websites can be tied into the traditional merchandising and advertising efforts of your store

Tom Shay provides proven management and promotional business building ideas through his Profits+Plus Seminars and books. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or at his web site: http://www.Profitsplus.org.

 
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