We’ve all had the experience of going to the store for just an item or two, and ending up with bags worth of groceries and goods. Just the other day, I bought yoga mats for my kids during a grocery shopping trip.
The impulse buy is serendipity marketing at its best, and I expect the phenomenon to continue for a long time. But what if you saw an item for sale at your local grocery store and were also able to find it online on your phone? Would you impulse buy on the spot?
Your answer probably depends on the difference in price and how urgently you need the item. But how much is having your item right now worth? If you are the owner of a local business, how can you persuade customers to buy from you rather than jumping immediately to e-commerce?
It is clear that the Internet has changed how we buy and sell. Think about the big web companies Ebay or Amazon, for example, or even the way we pay for movies and music. It’s also true that we live in an instant gratification economy. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how these two cultural shifts affect business, and how businesses can take advantage of them.
How the Internet Can Help Businesses Succeed
In many ways, the advent of the Internet has been great for business. A 2011 study by McKinsey & Company said it well.
“Search benefits retailers through raised consumer awareness of their online and offline stores and products; better matching of products to customer needs; and the ability to better sell long-tail items. In the process, new retail business models have emerged, such as online retailers dedicated to sales of long-tail items, and smaller retailers have discovered a more level playing field: as the size of the retailer decreases, the relative benefit gained from search increases.” – Lead Author Jacques Bughin
Here are just a few of the ways that having a good online presence can benefit your company or organization:
- Consumer Awareness: Because shoppers can look up products anytime and anywhere on their mobile phones, it’s possible to spread awareness about your products. This helps customers find exactly what they’re looking for. If you have a good product, they’ll come to you and will be ready to purchase.
- Price Competition and Transparency: When customers know just what they want and it’s easy to find you online, competitive price is next. This is a great way for small businesses to compete with bigger organizations. When you do it effectively, your products are all but sold.
- Easy Directions and Information: When you use the Google My Business tool or let a company such as Online Image® manage it on your behalf, it’s easy for your customers to find you. They can click your link right in the search results for directions, phone numbers and store hours. As a bonus, we can see how many times people have clicked to call or to get directions.
- Uploading Product Information is Easy: Just a few weeks ago, Google unveiled an option for product manufacturers and sellers to upload their product information. Now, customers can find your products and easily learn all they need to know about them.
- Reviews and Testimonials: When customers search for and find your products or services, they will almost always continue their research by reading reviews and testimonials from other customers. These can be more persuasive than anything you say. And it means that if you put forth the effort to get these reviews, you will do well.
How it Can Hurt
You don’t have to look any further than Blockbuster to see that some businesses can be hurt badly by new Internet technologies. I think that any business can still succeed, but there are some downsides to be aware of:
- Price Competition and Variety: This can be a benefit but it can also be a problem. When you can’t match prices or offer as much variety, your customers may go elsewhere. To win them back, make sure you offer great customer service and that you play up the benefit of being able to see your product in person, hold and touch it and then take it home right away. In my experience managing retail businesses, I saw that many customers would pay a few extra dollars for a product if they had a great experience at the store.
- Inventory Adjustments: While almost any business can succeed in the online marketplace, some may find that they may have to change their inventory. A product that might have sold well before customers had immediate access to competing products might have to be discontinued. However, it’s now possible to capture data about these products so you can make the right decisions about what to offer.
- Simplicity: If customers know exactly what they want, they may crave the simplicity of finding it online and purchasing it with a few clicks. You can help change this in a few ways. One of the best is to offer your own products for sale online. Another is to emphasize things like your return policy and customer service. Make your products as simple to find in person as they are online.
What You Can Do to Keep Up
According to a 2015 study published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 44.3 percent of shoppers around the world have tried e-commerce. By 2018, that number will reach almost 50 percent. That’s more than 3.5 billion people!
I love this chart from that study, which shows how people plan to shop in different countries, including which devices they intend to use:
Your business doesn’t have to miss out. First, make sure you have a strong online presence. Focus on carefully planning the buying process and making sure your branding is consistent for every marketing activity, online or off. Make sure you know which products in your store work well as impulse buys, and use the data to make the best possible decisions for your company.