It was all over our televisions and even in this very publication. Yet another cyberspace invader was arriving on the scene to steal your retail business.
What’s worse, Australia Post was going to be an accessory to the plot!
In case you haven’t heard, new ‘online shopping mall’ Tarazz plans to supply product from some of the world’s best-known retail brands.
But before you start planning the closing down sales, the news may just be the catalyst you need to think about how you are going to compete with such a proposition.
There are plenty of smaller businesses that have not only survived the online onslaught, but have profited handsomely.
And to a man, woman and child, what has distinguished them from their struggling bricks and mortar counterparts is one simple thing.
The attitude of the success stories has been to venture forth and embrace the online world and the billions of customers it can attract to your cash registers, rather than retreat and defend what is a very shaky patch – ‘the old way’.
It should be crystal clear by now that trying to fight this interweb thing and forlornly hoping for a return to the good old days is just prolonging the agony. Even perpetual naysayer Gerry Harvey has given up on this approach and is now aggressively promoting his online outlets.
It’s now essential that traditional retailers get onboard the online bandwagon before it rolls right over the top of them, leaving them gasping for air.
So to help you on your way, here’s a few pointers to get your online ball rolling.
1. Close the sale online
If your idea of an online store is to show your product and hope prospects will pick up the phone to order, forget it. Online customers don’t have time to play phone tag with you. They have their card at the ready and they intend using it. Don’t let your communications preferences get in their way, or you will lose the sale to a competitor.
That means setting up a professional, seamless and comprehensive eCommerce website with as many payment methods as you can throw at it. The great news is that this is a whole lot more affordable than it once was. Having said that, it’s now something that should by no means be scrimped on, so spend as much as you can get hold of. The ROI will be worth it.
2. Own your customer
Something that retailers really have to go get their heads around is also quite a well-known business principle. And that something is ‘lifetime value’ of the customer.
Too many retailers focus on their day-to-day sales performance and not on what are now critical metrics like sales per customer, repeat sales and so on. In other words, their focus is simply on the transaction and not on the ongoing or lifetime value of the customer.
A bevy of cheap or even free online tools such as email, social networking, rewards programs and so on mean that you need spend less on attracting new customers and instead work harder to keep previous customers coming back time and time again.
3. Understand that what sells in-store may not sell online and vice-versa
It’s important to understand too that what you sell or promote via your website may be totally different to what sells well or what your promote in-store.
Your physical store is predicated around the customers that can actually get to your store. In other words, your market is those who are in the market for your product and can actually get to your store, mostly in person.
But your online market doesn’t have such a tyranny of distance associated with it. Whilst distance does impact delivery prices, those in the market for your products don’t have to live anywhere near as close as they once did. Consequently, you may find that some of your products are much more suited to this distant market than those who can physically get to your store.
4. Don’t underestimate email marketing
Email marketing is still one of the most powerful allies a small business operator can have. And despite what you might hear, it is still the most effective form of direct marketing around by a long shot.
It’s also been the primary reason for the explosion in deal sites, whose operators are taking full advantage of its miniscule cost of transmission.
But you don’t need a deal service to use email to its full potential. A good email broadcast system and a well-planned program of offers, specials and news is all you need to capitalise on this brilliant, if slightly unfashionable, promotional medium.
5. Tap into social networking
For all its pitfalls – and there are plenty of them, social networking can still be a brilliant way to promote your business for next to nothing.
Even if your product lacks sizzle, everyone loves a bargain, so you might well find that customers are prepared to ‘like’ or follow your social networking presence, which essentially costs you nothing but time.
6. Hire web-savvy shop assistants
You can only dust and tidy your product so many times. But instead of having your shop assistants twiddle their thumbs, put them to work by driving your online marketing tactics.
Most young people would give parts of their anatomy to be paid to do something they spend most of their time doing anyway. It’s a fact that should be exploited for the common good.
7. Experiment with online marketing techniques
Two of the real beauties of the online world are both the low cost and ‘impermanance’ of its marketing capabilities. In other words, if a message or ad isn’t working for you, you just stop it and throw up a variation, as often as you like.
No fixed terms, no fixed ads, just a completely flexible and fluid promotional medium. It’s just perfect for the cash-strapped smaller business operator.
Whilst this list is by no means exhaustive, taking on as many of the tips as you can might be just the kick-start your eCommerce journey needs.
And it might just save your business.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au