We have had an increase in local businesses requesting more information regarding online stores for their business. I think this is due in no small part to the pandemic causing detrimental harm to the small business economy, but I also understand this shift that we see today has been making for the past three decades.
Local small businesses are finding that their competition is more than just big box stores and even more prominent online marketplaces such as Wayfair, Overstock, and eBay. Of course, those big box stores are also opening massively successful online stores. Just look at Walmart, which is currently the second-largest online retailer with a whopping 5.3% share of all online sales.
Without a doubt, though, Amazon is the undisputed titan for American shoppers with an insane 38% market share of all online sales. Think about the scale of that number for just a second and try not to get overwhelmed.
Amazon accounts for almost two out of five purchases made online in the United States.
So, how does any business just getting into the online sales game expect to make any headway these days? After all, the numbers appear daunting at first glance and can make business owners feel like they have lost before they have begun. Well, let's explore three simple questions that you must ask yourself as a business owner before you start this journey. All questions should be answered in the affirmative before moving ahead; otherwise, you may not need to provide an online store on your website.
Before we get to these questions, let's try and understand the motives of the shoppers and the businesses.
The main reasons people shop online can be summed up in a few relatable bullet points. These are not the limits to why someone will shop online, but they are common among online shoppers these days.
It goes without saying that online shopping is very convenient when compared to shopping in-person. Not only do you need not brave the weather conditions (ahem, winter is coming), but you also can avoid traffic, salespersons, lines, and rude shoppers. If you need to travel to a local store that is 20 minutes away only to grab a couple of items, why waste an hour out of your day driving here, there, and back and dealing with all the previous inconveniences? It's an easy decision, especially for the hectic nature of today's busy lifestyles.
When looking to buy local, you are limited to the products stocked on the store's shelves or, if you are lucky, still in the back. However, what if you want a variation in color, size, or features? You're out of luck in that scenario.
Uniqueness is why people who shop online love going online. Customers can get what they want just as they want if they are willing to wait for the package to arrive. Consequently, Amazon and other online retailers have dedicated exorbitant amounts of money to scale up the shipping and logistics efficiency and speed for their inventory sales.
Without question, low price points equal an increase in sales. I'm not talking about quality, just pricing. It's the whole reason Walmart exploded across the U.S. in the 80s through the early part of the 21st century. Even the song Redneck Woman by Gretchen Wilson is about getting stuff on Walmart's shelf at half price. It's also why dollar stores such as Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree opened more than 1,500 new stores in 2019. People want cheap items, quality be darned.
There are quite a few reasons businesses sell online, but I've found a few primary reasons for most online stores.
While still having unique challenges, opening an online store is a much easier business to open compared to physical locations. For example, a huge obstacle to creating a physical store is all of the hoops one must jump through to get off the ground. For instance, you must create a business plan that analyzes local competition, local demand for your products, location of the store, size of the shop location, signage, building out the store, utilities, local regulations, and on and on. Of course, we haven't even got into staffing issues or a well-thought-out supply chain.
This one is unique as many businesses sell physical products exclusively, but what about those that sell services and collect payments online. Or maybe you sell subscriptions such as educational training courses, and you want people to subscribe to your product online and then automate the process for your students. Online stores offer a simple way to push your online digital sales because you would be selling knowledge versus a physical item.
Businesses are understandably interested in increasing their bottom-line, meaning they want to profit as much as possible. There are only so many ways to trim your costs, so many consider growing their customer base. Online shopping opens your products to a much larger client base, which means your profits can feel limitless with these new customers. Additionally, online stores allow for easy integration of marketing tools such as newsletters, social media marketing, and loyalty programs, all without adding in-store staff.
Now that we've looked at a few reasons people buy and businesses sell online, let's ask those three critical questions for business owners to see if selling online is right for them. These are not concrete reasons to not sell online, but more guides on what to have established before selling online.
If you offer prevalent products that can be found almost anywhere and purchased online from other e-commerce platforms, then you may not want to move forward with your online store as competition is thick. However, if you have a unique product or service, you are well-positioned to sell on the internet. Now, more than ever, customers want something that sets them apart and becomes a unique experience.
Let's say you sell t-shirts, but these shirts are custom made and can be found only in your store. Now, people will gladly pay more for your product, which increases your profits and brand awareness. If you sell shirts found at Walmart or Amazon, people tend to get those items at the lowest price from larger retailers.
As another example, let's assume you offer a standard service such as home cleaning, but your customer reviews are superior to your competition. Now, you provide a high-quality service that is unique to your area, and selling online is a great option.
You can still sell online without a unique product or service, but we usually recommend drop shipping in this scenario, which is a whole different article.
As with all new stores, you will need to sell to customers. But where do you get these new people? With a physical location that is in a high-traffic area, your store signage will draw people in. Online stores, though, require constant online marketing and remarketing to build and serve a loyal customer base.
If you have an existing client base such as in-store customers that sign up for monthly emailers or you are selling to a captive audience such as seminar attendees, then your business will take off much faster than if you start from scratch.
The real litmus test for most business owners is if they can handle the additional work required to make a successful online store. If you find that you are short on time and overworked as-is, then press pause on selling online. You will only be adding to your existing work schedule. You will potentially encounter new problems that need solving, such as inventory management, order request fulfillment, shipping, and logistic challenges, and marketing your store.
Let's focus on that last one for a minute; marketing. As mentioned in the previous question, you will need to market your store. Even if you have an existing client base, chances are you will want to grow your business, and you will need to have a well-thought-out marketing plan. This includes capturing and understanding your online store visitors' analytics, social media management, social media advertising, and remarketing to site visitors, especially those that abandon their carts and featured or seasonal product promotions.
Opening an online store can feel overwhelming. I've probably added some new wrinkles to your plans. Do not fret, though. You can most definitely sell common products without an existing customer base, which requires an immense amount of your time to manage. We advise you to say yes to these questions first because the number one reason people seem disappointed in their online store is that they can't get people to buy their products or services online.
There are many factors to take into account when choosing where to set up shop. The size of your budget, what kind of product you sell, and how much time you have to devote to your business will play a large role in determining what's right for you. Consider taking a moment to ask other business owners (both online and brick-and-mortar) what challenges they face and what benefits they enjoy. Do your research, explore your options, and follow your instincts. The rest will fall into place.
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