Web checklist for retailers

How does your retail business measure up online? CRAIG REARDON

Craig Reardon

By Craig Reardon

The web checklist I suggested last week received a great response from SmartCompany visitors. It appears it helped business operators get a “virtual reality check” on the really important measures for their business instead of what was fashionable or going to make money for someone else.

Of course no two businesses are the same when it comes to their web presence. Differences in products and services, web advancement, markets, locations, skill levels and so on make it next to impossible for all businesses to share the same benchmarks.

So over the course of the coming weeks I will focus on different industries in an attempt to narrow down the online priorities within their sectors.

This week, retailers.

Retailers are a bit of a pet sector for me, not only because it represents unprecedented opportunities for them to expand markets affordably but because it’s been fascinating to watch retailers fall over themselves NOT to embrace the internet.

As I’ve written on SmartCompany in the past, retailers are probably the best placed sector of all when it comes to being “web-ready”. They already have the three Ss – stock, staff and systems – and four Ps – promotion, premises, packing and payment options. These assets could be valued at at least 80% of the costs a startup online retailer needs to stump up to get their business off the ground.

But what an amazing opportunity the web presents for existing retailers. For a fraction of the cost of setting up a physical store they could establish a web presence with passing traffic that would make Westfield and their ilk salivate.

Established, serviced and promoted correctly, a good website can multiply the sales of its operator, without setting foot from your store.

So what targets should retailers be achieving with their web presence? Here’s a checklist especially for them.

1/ We have embraced the web
Sounds obvious but is amazing how many don’t. What many retailers fail to grasp is that as you are reading this, at least one prospect is searching the web for the very product that is on their shelves.

Of course if that prospect can’t find them and is not assured that the product can be either collected or fulfilled in an affordable, secure and prompt manner, that product will stay right where it is, and a competitor will move theirs instead. Remember too, that even if you don’t sell online, the majority of the population are still using the internet to find a physical supplier of the product they are seeking.

2/ We capture the details of every single customer who walks in
To quote a high powered speaker whose name escapes me, do you know the lifetime value of your customer? For many retailers, that is simply the value of the one product said customer bought some days, weeks or even years ago and who has since disappeared into oblivion.

But that one sale could represent a fraction of the lifetime value that customer could bring you had you been able to capture their contact details to allow you to promote to them in future. While direct mail is a great way to do this, it is literally hundreds of times more expensive than promoting your wares via email. If they required it once, they will require it again, and email is the way to ensure they buy it from you.

3/ We have a professional website
Again what is a no-brainer to most businesses is still not commonplace among retailers. If in doubt, next time you go shopping ask the retailers you come across what their web address is. In many cases you’ll be given an email address or be told that it’s “under construction”. Either way, they are losing the business of the customers searching for their products right now.

4/ We email our list regularly
This is a bigger no brainer because you don’t even need a website to take advantage of it – though of course it is preferable. Fast, cheap, effective email remains the web’s killer application, despite the attention that social networking, iPhones, search engines, eBay et al receive.

Whenever before in history could you send a personalised, content-laden and highly responsive message to thousands of people for zero cost of transmission? It’s a major priority for not only every retailer but every business.

5/ We have a VIP club
But don’t just send a plain old email. Make recipients feel special by being part of a club that receives preferential treatment on product news, discounts, members evenings and even the odd freebie. Really, what have you got to lose?

It also helps realise item two above. It’s far better to offer them exclusive membership to a VIP club than be one of the hordes trying to have them “opt in” to their email list.

6/ We sell online
Many would of course put this at number one, but I’d argue it’s not as important as the above goals. Why? Because the vast majority of people still prefer to shop “in the flesh” and the above activities create in-person sales in addition to online sales. Yes, if you sell in person you should at some point make it available to be sold via your website (or sometimes eBay, see item nine below).

Importantly, a growing number of online shoppers really aren’t interested in waiting until the next day, week or month to purchase when the whole attraction of the net is seamless and time-saving purchasing. The great news for retailers is that this once-expensive step in their online journey – adding a secure shopping cart – costs now only a small fraction of what it once did, putting it within reach of even the tiniest outlet.

7/ We have a web-savvy shop assistant
Hate to say it, but retailers are not renowned for being early adopters of technology, with many still not even using a computer(!). But as we all know, if you want to find out about technology, ask your child, niece or nephew, or at least your youthful shop assistant.

If you aren’t confident or comfortable about managing a website and its subsequent online marketing, hire someone who is. Most young people I know would give parts of their anatomy to manage a real-life website and this provides greater incentive to hire and maintain great candidates.

8/ We have identified a profitable niche
Your online representation doesn’t necessarily have to mirror your physical store. Remember your physical store was conceived and has been managed to service customers within a given location. But online, it may be too competitive to offer exactly the same product. And focusing on a niche gives you a better chance of being found by search engines.

One of my clients has retail stores in regional Gisborne and metropolitan Port Melbourne. Rather than align their website too closely with either store, they have focused on the market they service and given their website its own unique branding, which is supported by the physical stores. While still a work in progress I’m confident they are on the right track.

9/ We use eBay for clearance items and customer acquisition
Of course the obvious problem with eBay for retailers is that it is full of bargain hunters. Which is fine if you are wanting to clear stock but not so fine if, like most retailers, you want to make the highest possible margin on your product.

But eBay can clear your stock cheaply and put you in front of a whole new market. Of course, if you make a sale you then have a relationship with a customer that can be nurtured by email and via your website.

10/ We can be found on Google et al
There’s already been enough bytes taken up with this topic to crash Silicon Valley. Golden rule – get on to page one of search engines for your specialised products and/or locations – if not by “natural” results (left results), then by using pay per click advertising (right results).

11/ Emails are treated like real-life customers
Did you spot the irony in this heading? Senders of emails are of course real-life customers and need to be treated as such and not just something you do when you can on the weekend, aggravating them and losing their business.

 

So how many did you get? As a guide, here’s what your score means.

  • 8 – 11 Excellent. You are likely to be meeting your customers’ online expectations and getting steady qualified leads from your website and e-marketing activities.
  • 5 – 7 Not bad. You will be getting some benefits from your web presence but need to take action on those items that didn’t rank.
  • Less than 5. Poor. You are not tapping into the benefits of a professional online presence. Investigate getting one ASAP!

 

Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au

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