Why don’t you sell online?

Even today, a surprising amount of small businesses still have no online outlet. Mark Kirschner, of e-commerce company Rakuten, discusses new ways to facilitate selling online.

Currently only 14 per cent of British small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are selling their products online, according to figures from the European Commission’s Digital Agenda report. This is a surprisingly low number of SMEs when you consider the fact that over 60 per cent of Europe’s population uses the internet regularly. So why are small and independent retailers unsure about the move online when it offers huge potential for expansion and can actually improve their offline business as well?

Take tips from the established

The presence of an online network is a great way for small retailers to develop a new and wider customer base, since these marketplaces already have their own bank of customers and consumers are more likely to trust shopping on these secure websites.

Small businesses should treat online as an extension of their high street presence in order to grow. Marketplaces offer an online arm for small retailers to sell their products so that small companies don’t have to set up websites alone which can come with high overheads.

Marketplaces offer small businesses the chance to develop beyond the physical store with a customisable shop front as well as taking advantage of the ready-made payment processes and delivery options.

Link online and offline

Consumers are increasingly demanding a more holistic approach to their shopping experience. People discuss products with their friends and engage with brands via social networks. In fact, JWT Intelligence finds that more than 40 per cent of men and over a third of women are more likely to purchase a product if it has been recommended via a social network. 

Shoppers also increasingly compare prices and research products online before buying in store. Social is also a fantastic tool for independent retailers; not only is it free but it’s a great way to link the online world with the physical store and bring people through the door as a result. For example, setting up competitions in store via social media or offering rewards for checking in on geographic services like FourSquare means that online and offline become more integrated.

The popularity of ‘click and collect’ also shows the demand for an integrated online and offline shopping experience, with 10 per cent of all e-commerce sales in the UK last Christmas being made using this service, according to figures from IMRG. The purchase process is changing so linking online and offline will be key to the future success of the high street.

Without an online presence independent retailers will miss out on the opportunities that a web presence opens up and brings back to the high street. Working alongside the physical store, online marketplaces are a trusted and secure way for shoppers to browse and buy. If small businesses develop their digital presence, and in doing so connect people with their local high street, the rewards could be significant for the size and longevity of their business.

See also: UK SME online retailers confident sales will increase

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of smallbusiness.co.uk) before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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