When it comes to selling products in the modern world, having a website is crucial. The question faced by small local businesses is not whether to have a store and a website, but whether a store is even necessary. High street sales are already falling across the UK, with a 2% fall over the festive period and a steady decline noted across the whole of 2016. Meanwhile, a recent report by the Office of National Statistics showed a 21.3% growth in overall online retail. Experts predict that by 2030, 50% of current high street stores will have closed or moved to online sales only.
It seems that online sales are the future and that high street shopping will soon be a thing of the past. Four out of five customers use the internet to find items they want to purchase or to look up brands and companies they are thinking of using. Not having an online presence would mean missing out on their custom. So what are the key benefits to online selling, as opposed to running a physical store? According to small business owners themselves, these are the leading factors which drove them down the online sales route:
- Reduce costs with less overheads and more freedom.
- Reach a wider market both locally and internationally.
- Build a more convenient shopping experience for customers.
- Collect customer-focused data and use it to improve the business.
- Create the illusion of a larger company with few staff and costs.
Bring Down Costs With An Online Presence
Operating a shop, especially on the high street, is an expensive business. Costs keep rising, with rents running to thousands of pounds per week, and there is a whole host of bills and other costs to consider as well. There is also the matter of security, and of staffing. Running a web-based business still has similar costs, but these are vastly reduced. You can also hand a lot of processes over to third parties for a small fee, such as managed hosting for the site, and cut out the need for expensive in-house specialists.
Lower costs are great for the customer. When the retailer does not need such a high markup on goods to make their money back, they can reward the customer with better prices and a wider range of promotions. “According to the study, brands which operate online only tend to have a wider range of discounts available. Of the ten most searched for companies on their site, seven are online-only retailers – including the ever-popular Amazon,” said Swapnil K., marketing analyst of VoucherBin.co.uk
Local Companies With A Global Reach
Without a website or some other form of online presence, local companies are limited to selling to the residents of their town or city. On the other hand, the internet can link customers with businesses all over the world. As long as your company is geared up for deliveries, you could sell your wares to customers just about anywhere – and therefore make more sales overall. In particular, companies who make the most of the mobile search have the advantage over shops. Over half of the consumers have used their mobile to find information about a local business, and 64% of those customers completed their purchase online through the website without needing to visit the store.
Having an online presence also allows companies to appear as small or as big as they would like to be. A sole trader can give the impression of a full team of staff, while a large company can break itself down into small regional sites. Presenting the right image for your brand is a lot easier when not constrained by physical premises. Even the smallest companies can stand alongside their bigger, more glamorous rivals and give them a run for their money, through having a carefully designed and coordinated web presence.
Data Collection And Fine Tuning Your Business
The customer experience is a big part of sales. If your customers are happy with the service, the product, and the process, they are likely to return and also to recommend your company. This is how any business grows from a small operation to a trusted brand. Back in 2012, a study revealed that customers struggled to trust faceless e-commerce companies, preferring a physical store with real people. Today, customers are far more willing to trust the internet with their purchases. However, the big question is whether those customers trust companies with their personal data, with cyber-crime forming such a large threat to retail.
However, data collection is a very valuable exercise which can be done online simply and easily, allowing businesses to fine-tune what they offer and create a personalized customer experience. As long as that data is given willingly by the customer and is correctly handled to protect all parties, it can be very useful. Understanding metrics like advertising value and click through rates, visitor totals versus conversions and user behavior patterns can ensure that a website is operating efficiently and money is not being lost through poorly performing sales channels.