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Click and Mortar Retailing

How to increase your business with the Internet

Only if you make a point to refuse to read the financial newspapers or the business section of a local or national newspaper would you be reading for the first time that many of the products in this industry are being sold via the Internet. There are companies whose sole purpose is to sell many of the same items that you are selling with the promise of having fast delivery, no need to drive to the store or endure uneducated employees. Worse yet, there are many customers who will come to your store, pretending to be a customer, to look at samples before placing an order with the online store.

Every day there are new businesses in the Internet market selling other products. These businesses think the online business is so lucrative that they are adding your same products to their product line. If they are not there already, how soon should we expect to see your products on amazon.com? It is as simple as "click and select, click and pay."  If this is how the situation truly is, will it be only a matter of time before every traditional storefront retailer has closed his or her doors permanently?

Granted, there will be items you sell that a consumer may not be willing to order for delivery from an Internet firm; but the few items that would be left would be easily available from a mass merchant. 

For most retailers reading this column, this scenario is not true. And for those retailers whose stores would fulfill this prophecy, the world of retailing will be better off when they do close as they give a bad name to retailing; and their poor customer service, combined with their poorly merchandised and operated stores, drive customers all the more quickly to the Internet.

Does this mean the opposite is true— that retailers can ignore the Internet, expecting that the price-shopping customer (the one we really don't care about), is the only one going to shop  the businesses of the Internet?

The answer is “no.” The answer for the retailer who has been a "brick-and mortar" retailer for many years is that there is room to become a more successful retailer by becoming a "click and-mortar" retailer. Statistics continue to show that customers who shop your website and your physical store actually spend more money. You may be the retailer who struggles to understand the Internet or even a computer, but this does not mean you need to be left out.

Let's first spend a few minutes in your store.  Many years ago, J.C. Penney was quoted, "There will always be room in the marketplace for a business that provides the personal interaction and product knowledge; but if you try to get into the game with us, we will crush you."

Granted, when he said this, he was talking about his type of store and your ability to provide that personal service. The category killer—big-box stores—had not yet been invented. Neither had the Internet.

When the customer walks into your store, is there a very noticeable difference in the way you display merchandise, the way people can see the various combinations of the products you sell, knowledge about the products you sell, and what the other stores offer customers?  Undoubtedly, you have read many articles emphasizing customer service and a customer-friendly store. Does the customer see that you have a website and that you are inviting them to shop on your website? Again, research shows that higher-income customers spend more when they can see the item on your site first. The need for businesses to address all of these issues today has never been more crucial.

If your employees do not know customers on a first-name basis, or if the only way a customer sees a product is by way of the manufacturer's display, then there is little difference between you and the competition. And with little difference between you and the other retailers, price and the ability to stay at home to order on the Internet from an unknown store can come into play.

Still, what can you do with the Internet? Your store of the "dot-com" world starts with creating a website that is informative and sells merchandise. In my experience, if  you are being quoted thousands and thousands of dollars to create your website, you need to take another look at the complexity of your website and then look for someone else to build the website. 

The cost for a beginning website can be less than the cost of a newspaper display ad. It can start with a few pages showing photos of the various product lines you carry. From this start you can progress to having a toll-free order line, a "shopping cart" page for customers to buy products online, and even an electronic newsletter. There are several online services for which you need only provide the electronic photo and product description to put your store online.

With a website, you can draw customers from around the community and around the world; but if you have visions of these sales, you must have several things. First is to have products on the website that the vast majority of retailers do not stock. The second is the right "keywords" on your website, and the third is information about the customers who have been buying these products from you. Of course, the customers from around your community are easier to drive to your website because they already know your name and reputation.

A brief explanation of "keywords." These are the "lighthouses" of the Internet that show Internet surfers how to find you. The ability to create these "lighthouse" words should be a vital skill of the person or company selected to maintain your website. You will know if you have chosen the right person when you go looking on the Internet for the products you are selling, and your store is among the first 10 website locations.  Of course, if you sell a wide variety of products, you will want to establish "lighthouses" for each category of products.

The list of potential customers is important because it allows you to assist customers to more easily shop your store—whether in person or through the Internet. 

In addition to gathering names and addresses, you should expect that the website-hosting company is providing you with a service that will tell you about the people visiting your site. You will see where the site visitors live, what they were looking for, how long they visited your site, and other bits of personal information that allow you to continually fine-tune your site.

The progressive retailer is creating an electronic newsletter and a print newsletter, which are both sent to customers each month. Why would any customer shop elsewhere? If customers live near your store, they might want to visit your store in person after finding you on the Internet so they can see, touch, and smell the plants you sell. If customers do not live near your store, they can still buy because they can see detailed pictures of the products on your website.

You may be a small-town business that has existed in the same brick-and mortar building for the past 50 years; now you have a branch store on the Internet. 

Your store can become one of the leaders in the coming generation of "click-and-mortar" retailers.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.
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