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Should you put your business online?

Last updated: 10 May 2022

Selling products and services online is as much about common sense as anything else. Some products sell well online while others don’t, so consider carefully whether your business would actually benefit before you embark upon what could be a costly exercise.

Products sold through brochures and other direct channels usually transfer easily. Items that appeal to enthusiasts such as sports memorabilia, cooking supplies, books and music do well. These niche markets are well suited to the internet as they are easy to market and find a ready supplier of customers. Also, rare items such as out of print books, special stamps and unusual postcards find eager buyers. It would be difficult to justify a shop on the high street to sell such esoteric items yet they can attract global interest online.

Other items that are easy to shift include ‘low-touch’ services, such as travel services, online stock trading, company formation companies such as Duport. These services don’t have a product to ship (except paper, by post) and can compete well with the high street because costs are low. These are ‘information-rich’ sectors, where people often buy products after wading through lots of relevant information. Often they need that information to make a decision. Present reliable data on a range of relevant issues and the customer will be more likely to trust your company and buy from it. Basically they are getting free information from you and if that information is exactly what they want they will return again and again.

Online shops are very good at selling purchased items such as office supplies or manufacturing parts. From paperclips to plumbing parts, shops which ‘remember’ your order and can repeat or change it to suit your needs, are very attractive. Consider whether or not your internet business can save people time, money and hassle. If the answer is yes and you can back it up with a first class customer service you may do well. Technology products also shift easily on the web, especially software, computers, printers, digital equipment. People who buy these products are generally savvy about the internet and use it with ease. Gadgets and electrical goods also sell readily on line. Reliability and highly competitive pricing are obviously crucial here as competition is fierce.

Even if you can’t sell your products online, perhaps because you need to offer a customised service, you could still have a site with examples of your work and a price list. This can be highly effective and bring in more business.

Perhaps the most important question you should ask is whether your target audience goes online to buy products and services like yours. If they don’t there is obviously no point. If your clients live active, busy lives, the time-saving benefit of internet shopping often appeals. And if you sell locally, but your products have global appeal, e-commerce may be an attractive way to expand the business.

Check out your competitors. Are they online? If a number of them are then at least you know the web is probably helping them and so could help you. Consider how your site will stand out from the rest, and factor in the associated promotional costs of competition. Look at as many sites as possible and create a site that sets you apart. Be specific and offer something you know your customers want. Don’t be put off by the competition. If your rivals are not online ask why. Have you found an untapped market to exploit? Or is it because this particular market is simply not worth it?

Before you take the plunge it is worth asking customers about their online habits and finding out how the internet has impacted your industry. If you have a Trade Association ask them for information. Remember if you go ahead it will take resources to set up and ongoing service and support. Someone will need to handle the new sales coming in and keep the site operating smoothly. This will include producing the website, keeping it secure and promoting it. Marketing is a far greater expense than the initial build cost. The site needs to be updated regularly and prices and stock lists checked and changed as necessary. Who will handle customer inquiries, arrange posting etc? Plan ahead and consider all the above before you build (or outsource) site. Doing business on the Internet is not for everyone, but if your company can get a slice of the action, you don’t need to shrink away from it.

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