How many times have you shopped online and been given the option of picking up your purchase at one of the seller’s local outlets? Or dropped by a store or showroom to personally check out merchandise before purchasing it online? These days, so many companies operate both brick-and-mortar outlets and online storefronts that it can be tough for them to imagine selling strictly over the Web. Yet that’s how we’ve been doing business for the past seven years at CableOrganizer.com. And do you know what? We wouldn’t have it any other way.
People often ask me what it’s like to do business entirely over the Internet. As with just about anything else, there are pros and cons, and over the past seven years, I think we’ve experienced them all. Selling on the Web can be very positive in a lot of ways, and one of the biggest (and most obvious) plusses is that your customers can purchase 24/7/365 without even leaving their home or office. They can be snowed in, not feeling well, or immersed in a hectic workday, yet still be able to “go shopping” for anything.
Another benefit of selling online is that you can expand your business into a global entity. As long as you’re willing put in the long hours and hard work required to build traffic, and don’t mind offering international shipping, you can become a presence in the worldwide marketplace. The Internet is the ideal tool for reaching an enormous population of potential customers. Selling online is comparable in cost to producing and sending tens of thousands of catalogs to an untargeted audience, but because web-based suppliers are able to reach a far higher percentage of interested consumers, the return on investment (ROI) can be considerably higher.
So what are the challenges of selling online? Some are very basic, like the fact that there are many people who are so wary of credit card fraud that they only feel comfortable purchasing in-store or placing an order over the phone. But others aren’t so obvious. Remember all those manufacturers that you convinced to resist the Internet? Many of them listened to you and took steps to prohibit sales of their products online. If you eventually decide to start selling on the web, they could drop you as an authorized dealer or even take legal action against you.
Here’s another misconception: a lot of budding Internet entrepreneurs have that classic Field of Dreams “build it and they will come” mentality. People tend to think that if they secure a web domain and create a basic website with a few well-chosen products, endless streams of consumers and purchasing agents will magically find the site and hand over their money. That’s a nice idea, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Online shoppers have come to expect certain amenities as part of a satisfactory buying experience, and the minimum required number of these “tools” constantly increases as technology evolves. Because they aren’t able to personally interact with products prior to ordering them, potential buyers rely on extensive specs, customer reviews, money back guarantees, 24-hour sales support, sophisticated site search, professional photography and demonstration videos to help them purchase with confidence. But that only covers the pre-ordering phase. When it comes to placing orders, savvy buyers demand the latest encryption technology to keep their personal information safe, as well as lightning-fast order turnaround and shipping. Post-order, you should be able to offer your customers online invoice retrieval, not to mention friendly and dependable customer support. Can you keep up with that?
If keeping customers happy sounds like a tall order, then you’re getting the picture. It’s entirely possible to operate a stellar Internet-based business, but if you’re under the impression that you can do it alone, think again. Successful online selling is, if nothing else, a team effort. If you do decide to have a go at it, be prepared for the companionship – and expense – of IT engineers, Internet marketing specialists, product procurement staff, analysts, web designers, writers, additional customer service reps, and order fulfillment personnel.
So there you have it. It would take hours to list every single up and down of running an online business, but we’ve covered the major ones. For some, Internet sales can be the source of great prosperity and even a degree of personal freedom. But for those who underestimate it, selling online can be a challenge that quickly turns to failure. If you’re considering starting your own Internet-based business, remember that preparation and adaptation are key, keep an open mind, and always look toward the future.
Valerie Holstein is the Co-Founder and CEO of CableOrganizer.com, a leading provider of cable, wire and equipment management solutions available online at http://CableOrganizer.com.