Should You Switch Your Retail Operation From Offline to Online?

Want to reach customers who are shopping online rather than in brick-and-mortar stores? Here are tips for making the leap from offline to online retail.
September 11, 2015

With Internet sales rising each year, the face of retail seems to be steadily morphing. According to the research and advisory firm, Forrester Research, U.S. online retail sales are expected to reach $334 billion this year and $480 billion by 2019. 

To stay competitive, small businesses should make adjustments to help increase their online presence and sales, believes Caleb Garrett, a partner and angel investor for Hawkers Co. “It’s inevitable for small business brick-and-mortar retail to move toward online digital sales, because the buying power has changed and continues to evolve,” Garrett says. “We have social media, cellphones and tablets thrown in the retail mix, and to not have an online presence is detrimental to a small business.”

Online Retail Benefits

The shift from offline to online sales has its benefits, including in the area of overhead costs. “With online sales, you are able to offer more discounts, sales, free shipping and other benefits that are not possible with brick and mortar,” Garrett says. “As technology advances, the convenience of saving time and not having to drive trumps buying items in person. Online is even changing the way we search for items. We see something we want and then go find it online first, rather than look for it in the store.”

To be a viable business in today’s marketplace, you should have both an offline (brick-and-mortar) presence as well as an online presence, adds Darnyelle A. Jervey, CEO of Incredible One Enterprises, a business consulting and coaching firm. “Some of your clients will prefer the face-to-face power of touching and feeling what they desire to purchase and interfacing with your sales team. But as the consumer base, which includes millennials, becomes more comfortable with the ease and convenience of buying online and security and privacy measures increase, convenience shoppers will opt for ease over experience.”

Thanks to improved online marketplace technology, you don’t even have to worry about losing the high-touch feel that customers want, Jervey notes. "If you own a high-touch retail business, consider ways to provide customers with a personal touch. It’s possible to offer add-ons and upgrades, even online,” she says. “For instance, you can create a preferences list and keep track of what customers buy so you can suggest ways to enhance their experience on your website.”

Tips for Making the Shift to Digital

To help successfully transition to a stronger e-commerce platform, you should keep a few things in mind.

“The most important thing to do is to put in place the foundations of digital marketing, regardless of whether you’re currently selling online or not,” says Kevin Layton, CEO of Data-Dynamix, which offers demographic data, marketing strategies and training and experienced a 343 percent 3-year growth rate. “A website, map listings, local search with optimization, solid landing pages, social media and valuable content that helps your customers solve problems are all paramount to bring people online who are not in your backyard,” explains Layton, author of The Digital Marketing Machine. "Once you have your online presence in place, direct your current customers to your site and give them the option to buy from you online.”

When it comes to your offerings, start small, Garrett suggests. “Begin offering your bestselling items and keep your content clean, streamlined and shop friendly; don’t overwhelm customers. Also understand your audience and add benefits that cater to that audience. Then use your social media accounts to create your voice and post content.”

Keep up to date with the latest technology to help you deliver the best e-commerce experience possible, and use analytics to track how the site is doing so you can make improvements. Most important, don’t give up, advises Layton: “Building your online presence and driving digital sales takes time and investment, just like it does with your brick-and-mortar location.” 

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