For many entrepreneurs, taking a business online is a daunting task. However, having an online presence where customers can interact with your company and purchase items or services is essential to the health of the business.
Some of the businesses I spoke to thought that selling online would give them an advantage. What they quickly realized was it's an essential tool for a small business to survive in this technology-driven instant world.
When The Book Cellar and Enjoy, An Urban General Store opened in 2004 and 2005 respectively, the online landscape was totally different. E-books were not even being talked about outside of the industry and Facebook and Twitter weren't part of a marketing plan. Now, eight years later The Book Cellar isn't only selling its books online, but its customers can download e-books through them as well.
This was incredibly important because it opened up a market that was previously only available to the bigger book sellers. Susan Takacs from The Book Cellar sees e-books and her online store as an essential part of good customer service. Now her customers can find the print and e-books they want all in one place while supporting a local independent business.
She noted that the marketing of your online presence needs to be part of the overall project and is a key factor to success online.
Stephanie Edwards from Enjoy, An Urban General Store states that their online store is an essential piece to their overall success. While overall online shopping has been an extremely successful program for them they have noted some lessons learned along the way.
- Secure the domain name early and do domain searches for all words or names that are similar to your business.
- Integrate the online brand with the store brand from the beginning.
- Promote the online presence in the store and through all appropriate social media and public relations channels
- Offer free in-store pickup
- Understand your potential shipping costs before starting the program
- Establish your customer service policy for online and in store before launching the program
One of the surprises that both stores noted in going online is how many people came in the store to pick up their items. This realization reinforced the idea that people still like visiting brick and mortar stores but appreciate the convenience of making sure their desired items are there before they make the trip. It's a value-added service that customers have to come to expect while providing the business with unprecedented access to a global marketplace.
Melissa Flynn is passionate about her community and passionate about her job as the executive director for the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce. For the past seven years she has been creating a sense of place that has helped to transform the Lincoln Square community. Flynn is a skilled and experienced executive with a proven track record of creating a successful business climate balanced by strong values of sustainability and community. Under her leadership in 2011, the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce achieved the highly coveted 3-star Accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.