Thursday 24 May 2012

Should This Trader Ditch His Website?

When I started my retailing business over 30 years ago I was lucky enough to have the assistance of an experienced retail mentor who steered me away from a classic mistake made by new business start-ups.
I had planned a combined retail/wholesale business and this man convinced me that I needed to focus on either wholesale OR retail because the two were slightly different and the differences would place strains on the whole operation. Basically he was telling me that to succeed I needed to do one thing really well. I have seen instances in the intervening years that tell me he was right.
Now I have to decide if I am making a similar mistake with trying to combine my market stall with an online presence. Retail gurus everywhere are telling us we need to have an online presence to meet the needs of the new consumer. But is a simple presence enough? There are some very professional online retailers out there. Myer and David Jones are spending $millions on their online catalogues which, if media reports are true, will offer over 30,000 items. I already have a website and customers will often say to me “Do you have a lot more stuff online”?  Customers expect a lot more online but, is that compatible with the size of my business?
If I was doing a full-on, online business I would pick a category and make sure I presented a comprehensive range of goods. I would probably locate myself in a regional area where cheap rents would sustain a large warehouse. I would be in close proximity to transport services, and I would put a lot of effort into warehousing/packing facilities that would sustain volume throughput. I would carefully control stock levels to avoid stockouts and I would pick products that are going to give me maximum markup and support the “free return if you don’t like it” philosophy that many of the big online operations are offering. In other words I would want to do my online operation really well to give it every chance against the competition.
I am very competitive as a bricks’n’mortar retailer. I offer a focussed range of goods that are competitive with online offerings. I give the customer a “look, touch and feel” experience that they cannot get online, I offer personal (and hopefully personable) service to each and every customer and I give them a choice of delivery options if they don’t wish to take their purchase with them. My business is set up to achieve those outcomes. Do I, and can I, offer the same level of excellence online? Is an online presence a natural extension of current retailing or is it a separate entity that is not really compatible with face to face retailing? The nagging question is – Would all those customers who say “I really love your stuff, but do you have a website that I can look at later?”, become immediate buyers if I said “I don’t have a website but I can do a good deal for you here and now.”?

24/05/2012 15:01:43 "Online is a good option ONLY if you can run the systems on an integrated basis. Both shopfronts must 'know' if a product is in or out of stock.
Secondly, if you sell things that the tourist/ stall visitor will want to re-purchase (goat's milk soap) the product and it cannot be readily found elsewhere. Then you have a ready-made market.
So the answer is, maybe not. :-)" Should This Trader Ditch His Website?