Why Trade Online?
If everyone in the UK was given a pound for every media report covering the demise of the high street retailer, we’d all be much better off. Wherever you look the message is the same, the internet in general, and ecommerce in particular, is putting traditional retailers out of business and no-one is safe.
These dark clouds however, disguise a more important truth, which is that trading online offers a huge opportunity for growth both within the UK and beyond. According to recent research from the British Retail Consortium, although total UK retail sales have been highly anaemic, but internet sales are continuing to grow rapidly.
The truth, therefore, is a little bit more complicated than these media harbingers like to suggest. Retail sales may well be static, but online sales are growing apace. The sector isn’t in decline, it’s actually in transition. Those of us who recognise change and identify the associated opportunities have a chance to win, and win big.
Selling online presents three major opportunities:
Connecting with new consumers
Wherever your business is based if you rely on people knowing its physical location then you are at an immediate disadvantage. Sure, people may like seeing products before they buy them, but by limiting sales to those who are able to visit your locality, you are immediately applying a brake on revenue.
Selling online provides direct access to anyone connected to the internet, massively increasing the potential of your business. Okay, if you’re a convenience store it probably doesn’t make much difference, but if you sell specialist items, then there’s a good chance your new customer base is just waiting to connect to you.
Establish a business to business channel
One of the great things about the UK is that it is packed with all kinds of small businesses. According to recent government figures, there are a staggering 4.8 million businesses in the UK. Of these, 99 % (4.75 million) employ less than 250 people and 96% (4.6 million) less than 10. The buying habits of small businesses are typically similar to consumers, but they are easier to contact, willing to pay more for service and tend to stick with suppliers they trust. If your products are suitable then selling to businesses is a great opportunity.
Another, often overlooked opportunity provided by the online trading is the ability to find customers abroad. It’s easy to dismiss this out of hand, but you shouldn’t. If you are UK born then the chances are your mastery of languages will be limited to English. But remember, there are plenty of people outside the UK who speak English too.
According to Wikipedia, English is the most widely used language in the world and is the first language of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and a number of Caribbean nations. It is also the third-most-common native language in the world. All these people can potentially buy your products plus, of course, all of their associated ex-pat communities. And, if you are fortunate enough to have some ethnicity in your family, then you may also have connections with other countries beside.
“But what about fraud?” I hear you saying. My advice would be to be pragmatic. There are certain countries in the world where the ethics of business are somewhat different to ours. Unless you have contacts there, avoid them. Some products are more at risk from fraud than others, so use your common sense. And, if something sounds too good to be true, then remember, it probably is.
Power to your elbow
Finally, if you are wondering how you can benefit, then I have some good news.
Over the last 15 years many businesses have successfully made the transition ’bricks’ to ’clicks’ and it’s not as hard as you might think. Having observed many of my own customers successfully navigate these waters, there’s one thing I can say for sure – if you have the nous to run a retail business offline, you have most of what you need to run it online.
At the heart of every successful online business, there is always a person or a team of people who understand the business. They know where to buy product, how much of it to stock, how much to pay for it and how to price it. Having this expertise in the locker is essential for online sales success, but it only comes with experience.
When you sell online, you don’t have to throw away everything you know. In fact it’s the opposite. Selling online gives you the chance to share your expertise with more people. While I can’t tell you here if your business is a perfect fit for the web, what I can say is that if you don’t ask yourself the question you may be missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime.
By Chris Barling, chairman and co-founder of ecommerce software and EPOS systems supplier, SellerDeck.