According to the Pew Internet and Family Life Project, almost 150 million adults are Internet users. Thats a 66% increase since the organizations last survey in January 2005. In addition, 42% of homes have broadband connections.
More time spent online by users translates into more sales for online retailers. Outdoor Industry Aassociations Executive Market U.S. Outdoor Industry Retail Audit Topline Report published in February found that Internet sales of outdoor merchandise for the 12 month period ending in February 2006 totaled $647 million. The average selling price for online sales was $44.
According to Kurt Peters, editor of Internet Retailer, online retail sales in 2005 grew 25% over 2004. “Thats been the story of this industry for the past 7-8 years. Consumers are shifting their buying to online. Retailers who are not shifting their sales there will loose out. Its as simple as that,” said Peters.
Convenience and the ability to compare prices quickly are two important benefits to shopping online. It will be a long time before the traditional brick and mortar storefront will be replaced, but outdoor retailers, like all retailers, need to face the challenge.
Peters explained, “There is still a lot to be gained by shopping at stores. There is a lot that can be learned in the give and take with a sales associate. But people are doing online research before buying. If you dont have an online presence you have lost an opportunity to participate in that sale. If you arent online you cant capture that customer.”
Managing the day-to-day operations of a retail store may not leave much time for exploring e-commerce solutions and launching a new sales channel. But avoiding the task isnt an option. “Retailers will loose their market if they dont go online with an e-commerce site. Its imperative. If you are going to compete you have to go where the customers are and thats online,” Peters said.
There are options and resources available to bringing e-commerce to your store relatively easy. Peters offered this advice. “Start small and consider using an Ebay store or look into a Yahoo or Amazon stores. Test the waters and find out what it takes to market, fill orders and deal with customer service online.”
Ebay, Yahoo or Amazon provides the technology. Retailers provide product images, product descriptions and a mechanism to answer email inquiries or take customer service calls. Accepting electronic payments online requires a service like PayPal.
Another route is using a software company to build your site. “There are plenty of companies like LaGarde, Stone Edge Technologies and Channel Advisors that specialize in helping small retailers create an online presence. They can be a valuable source of information for selling and marketing online,” Peters said.
Using a friend of a friend who knows how to build cheap websites is NOT the way to go. Mistakes cost money and even more important, alienate consumers who become frustrated. Peters explained. “The most common mistakes concern web site design and usability. You have to know what makes a site navigable and what encourages them to buy. Its not easy to build a site that is intuitive to use. Using the site may be perfectly obvious to the person who built it but not to the consumer who may get confused understanding what needs to be done.”
In addition to the website and e-commerce technology, processes and procedures at the store need to be designed. Once the orders are received, packing, shipping, and inventory control issues need to be addressed.
In the early days, the web site would generate an order through an email and the retailer would re-key it into their inventory management system. You have to find a system that can integrate with your existing system. Once the site is built and launched, the work shifts to building traffic through search engine optimization, affiliate marketing programs, and email messaging.
Adding an e-commerce function to your website is becoming a competitive necessity in the retail landscape. “The Internet makes competition more intense and allows changes to be made faster than ever before,” Peters said.
This is the first in a series of articles about e-commerce, web sites and the technological questions faced by owners of outdoor specialty stores. Please feel free to send us a note with your questions, experiences and best practices to email@example.com