Dealing with customers who built their businesses in the old-fashioned brick-and-mortar retail stores and offices has its advantages. You get to learn from professionals how to build your business based on personal touch, attitude and having a feeling of your customers. It’s amazing if you think of it. Almost all the marketing techniques that we use on the internet came straight from offline world. But that’s not what I am getting at here.
The downside of talking to such business owners is that not many of them truly realize what internet can offer to them. For example, one of the prospective clients I get to talk to recently denied almost any attempt to build their store’s internet presence on the grounds that the one they already have built for them earned around $1,000 for last year. That’s for a store that sells merchandise priced between $10 and $300 dollars per item!
The real reason for under performance of the store is not the store itself. After all, there are still thousands of stores designed like it’s 1699 that make a decent income to their owners. No, the reason was that the store wasn’t getting any exposure. What good is a store in the middle of the Mojave desert if there is no road going right next to it.
Pretty much any internet store is just as good as the audience that’s visiting it. If you have a poorly designed store that gets hit with hundreds of thousands of target visitors (i.e. visitors who are interested in what you’re selling) you still can make decent money, even if some of your visitors will be scared away by the look of your store. On the other hand, if you have latest and greatest Flash-based, full-throttle Ajax-based Web 2.0 store that receives 10 visitors per day – you will hardly see any sales.
Small store owners, obviously, understand that. After all, they all opened in the premium locations, where constant stream of people exiting subway, mall or parking lot immediately see their sign, awning and convert into clients. What their problem is that they don’t know how to get to that premium location on the internet. Is that a paid link on top of Google’s search results? Is that being a top of organic results? Is that being in all of the above-mentioned places? They don’t have that same retail feeling they had when they opened – and their past experience is almost no indication.
In my opinion, in the long run we will stop developing custom web stores, e-commerce shopping carts and other tools to actually complete the sale. We will move on to developing tools for promoting and attracting customers, focusing more on bringing the person to the point of sale instead of developing the actual point of sale. Every large internet portal has something like a point-of-sale software. eBay has auctions and eBay Stores. Yahoo offers Yahoo Stores. PayPal offers fully featured shopping cart as well as BuyNow buttons. Google offers Google Checkout. Amazon offers both the payment processor (Amazon payments) and ability to sell things through their online store.
There are so many ready-to-go points of sale, the only question I am asking myself is how to make sure customer will use at least one of them. That’s the question the small store owners will start asking me soon, and I am better off having a good answer by then.