Expert Advice for Brick-and-Mortar Stores Going Online

By Jennifer Schiff | Posted March 15, 2005

Yesterday, Jennifer Schiff profiled Two Jakes, a quirky furniture store that launched its e-commerce store last year. Today, JupiterResearch's Patti Freeman Evans talks about the growing trend of traditional stores finding success online

"Online retail growth continues at double-digit rates and will continue that way over the next five years," says Freeman Evans. "And the growth rate of traffic to retail sites is increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the Internet. That points to consumers becoming more and more comfortable with the online shopping experience. And that bodes well for small businesses [such as Two Jakes] that are currently playing the e-commerce game."

Additionally, using the Internet to sell your goods can be more cost effective than traditional print advertising, says Freeman Evans, especially when you consider the cross-marketing and partnership opportunities available online.

Of course just being online doesn't guarantee success. To improve your chances, Freeman Evans suggests the following strategies:

  • Have a competitive advantage — something that differentiates you from other online and offline retailers. It could be a unique product, a better price or better service. "If you have the same product that Wal-Mart or Saks sells, you don't have a differentiator," she says.
  • Be upfront about shipping time. "If it's going to take you five days to pick it, pack it and get it ready to ship, then tell the customer that."
  • Don't miss your shipping date.
  • Be patient. Just because you create an attractive Web site, have some sort of differentiator and have your fulfillment process down pat doesn't mean the money is going to come pouring in right way. "It could be a day or it could be two years [until you realize revenue from e-commerce]," says Freeman Evans. "It all depends."

"The great thing about being online is you don't have to invest in a real estate contract. And during the initial stages, you don't have to invest in too much additional inventory," stresses Freeman Evans. "You can test different practices to find out what's going to work."

You also don't have to set up your own e-commerce site. "You could put up a storefront on eBay or on Yahoo! very quickly and benefit from the marketing they do to help small businesses grow," says Freeman Evans. "You don't have to do it all on your own."

For brick-and-mortar retailers concerned that an online outlet could cannibalize their existing business, Freeman Evans says not to worry. "You're going to get exposure outside your natural trade area," which can only improve business.

Moreover, consumers like multi-channel shopping. They do a lot of research online, but they tend to shop offline.

"If you're evaluating your Web site solely on the basis of the sales it generates, that's fine. But that underestimates the impact that the online experience has on your offline sales, which can be very great. Based on online research we think that for every dollar people spend online, they spend six offline."

Which is very good news for businesses like Two Jakes.

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com, part of Internet.com's Small Business Channel.

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