E-Commerce, also known as an online store or shopping cart, is being considered by more and more pet and feed stores. The prospect of increasing sales well beyond your local area is indeed motivating. Should you merge an online store into your current business?
While at first glance, an e-commerce site would appear to open your business to potentially millions of new customers, there are factors you should consider. Spending time considering all sides of the issue is important to making the right choice for your business.
1. Personal Contact.
One consideration is that of the selling process. Most small business owners understand that helping customers solve their needs is what drives the sales process. Customers don’t set out to buy a dog bed, they are searching for a comfortable, safe place for their beloved pet to sleep. When your customer arrives, a well-trained salesperson will discuss the options with the customer, help them analyze the differences, and aid them in finding the perfect solution. The sale is made.
An online purchase is quite different, although begins the same. The customer browses the available choices. Your item photos and descriptions act as the salesperson and a good e-commerce site will help the customer navigate among the choices. The capability of the site and the personal choices of the customer make this online sales help each have a huge effect on the end result.
The limitations of an online store include the lack of personal contact. Many customers return to your brick and mortar store based on rapport they feel with the store’s staff. Also, a good salesperson is able to interact individually with each customer, an invaluable skill that builds strong customer relationships and ultimately increases sales potential. A web-based store does not have that personal feel.
Some customers do prefer shopping in the comfort of their own home. Online shopping appeals to busy customers, people who find it difficult to travel to stores, and also those who like to compare prices before buying. Also, online stores do not have to close; you are able to sell each minute of each day.
2. Upsells & Impulse Buys
While shopping in your store, a customer comes in contact with various products that he has not even considered prior to seeing them. He might decide to purchase his pet a new toy that is displayed or buy treats in a new flavor. The ability to touch the products and see them in person increases the chances of finding the right product. Sales personnel that are well trained will introduce related products to the customer, helping the customer while increasing sales. Customers appreciate this attention to their needs.
A good e-commerce site will offer upsells and invite impulse buys, but is easier to click through without purchasing. Again, tied in with the personal contact, the lack of a personal connection often makes a difference.
3. Price Comparisons
Your customer is shopping on your site for the wanted pet bed. He finds one he really likes but before he purchases it, he decides to check out other prices on other online stores. In just a few seconds, he is able to compare your price on the product to that of many other online stores. He might also find another type that he prefers.
This can also work for you, of course. He might find your store by searching from another site. There are ways to help keep him on your site, of course, and a good e-commerce site will use them. But it is also easy to lose customers with the ease of the internet.
Adding an online store to your existing store can be quite expensive. A good e-commerce site with the extras to help keep customers, encourage add-ons, allow payment and shipping options, and keep your entire inventory will usually come at a cost to set up and has a monthly maintenance cost, as well. Of course, you can expect to recoup that investment by the added sales, but there are no guarantees.
You can set up the store yourself using one of the available carts, but most store owners do not have the time needed to learn the process and then implement it. Having it done professionally is an option, but comes at a price, usually several thousand dollars. A less expensive monthly option can be found with the cloud-based systems, but they are less flexible and often still require a great deal of set up time.
5. The Decision
Ultimately, the decision is yours. Many stores have found new revenue trails running an online store in addition to a brick and mortar store. The possible income from such a combination is quite intriguing. The investment of time and money might well be justified by the increase in sales.
Some stores have chosen to stay with their current store or chain of stores, investing in their profitability, rather than branching out to e-commerce. For these stores, that personal touch is an important factor, as is the custom merchandising and displays that their stores allow.
Our recommendation is to carefully weigh the pros and cons before deciding. If you do choose to add an online store, it’s important to find one that will expand your business, not one that demands much of your time or money.
Whether you choose to add an online store or not, we recommend maintaining an up-to-date, clean, responsive website that drives customers to your store. Regular updates to your website, blog, and social media create an interesting site for your customers to visit and to refer their friends to. A small investment in a professional site can make a huge difference in your sales each month.
Comp-Ware Systems offers professional websites, social media management, and other resources to help you grow your business. Visit CompWareWeb.com for more information.
Coming Soon: Comp-Ware Systems E-Commerce System, a full online store cart that integrates with our DARTS package for a seamless, integrated POS experience, managing your entire system, including sales and inventory. Contact us for more information.