Online Retail – Evil Piracy Or Rescue Life Saver…
If you have already started down the path of blending your bricks and mortar retail stores with an online retail presence or have even an ecommerce platform, congratulations and stop reading now…you have other challenges to face and you can find out more here or here.
OK – Now That They Have All Left The Room…
The rest of this article is for you 65% of remaining retailers that are yet to embrace online as a complementary marketing channel…yes, that’s right…online is not the evil pirate you might think, stealing your customers and running away with your rent money.
In fact, although the phrase “recent research has uncovered” always makes us cautious, according to a survey by Econsultancy of 1,000 consumers in the UK and the same number in the USA, 81% of consumers regularly use the internet to research purchases and then proceed to buy from a local store. Not such a bad thing then is it?
And then typically we hear retailers respond “Well, they are checking prices and then they expect us to match or beat online-only stores!” and the answer is…yes. And when all things are equal, price becomes the prime driver – but all things are not equal; as an established retailer with a store, you are more “real” and trustworthy, you have a more tangible reputation and you have a clearer track record, you are more convenient, you also are more “now” as you can immediately satisfy their need…and, hopefully, you provide awesome customer service, right there in front of the customer.
And now here is a big secret – online-only retailers do not have the huge advantages that you think they have. They have their own challenges to deal with…
- They live in terror of Search engine algorithm updates
- They pay through the nose for Search Engine advertising
- They have to offer extraordinary guarantees such as “100% Money Back – no questions asked” in order to overcome buyer reticence
- They have to deal with very high return rates and the cost associated with that
- They get lonely
So, time to stop being paranoid and wringing your hands in terror – you have some huge advantages over them…
- You are highly credible – you really do exist
- You have more time to gain customers confidence and sell them on the benefits of your products
- You have certainty of passing trade
- You are surrounded by like-minded businesses and usually few competitors
- You are really, really convenient
- People, and especially women, see shopping as a social experience and one that is hard to emulate online
- You get to meet and interact with people every day and seldom are you lonely
So, it’s time to play dirty and go out and take on the online-only retailers on head-to-head…go out and buy a website – they are not expensive and some are as little as $50.00 a month, all pre-built and set up ready to list your products. We recommend Bigcommerce for most small to medium businesses as a starting point – it is highly Search Engine-friendly, very easy to use, there are lots of design templates to choose from and even their online payment processing is ready to roll and it starts at about $50.00 per month…you can literally set up a store in one Sunday afternoon. You just need to do it.
Now, just for a fleeting moment spare a thought for the poor online retailer – can they reverse the situation and go out and set up a retail store in one Sunday afternoon for $50.00 a month?
We know it isn’t quite as simple as the scenario we have just outlined but we hope that you have a more balanced view of the genuine advantages that you have as a traditional retailer now embracing the online retail space.
Essential SEO Elements
Once you commence on this complementary path, there are a few things you will need a hand with. Just as when you kicked off your first retail outlet, there was a learning curve, so there is on the web side of things. One of those things is Search Engine Optimization or SEO – and if you take the time to read our website end to end, you will find just about all you need to know. We suggest you start with our How SEO Works page and then review this page on How DO Search Engines Work.
A Few Tips Specific To Retail SEO
- Unique Product Descriptions – it is just so easy to go to your product manufacturer or wholesalers’ website and copy and paste the product description and specifications onto your product pages. And it is because it is so easy that the Search Engines discount your efforts. Remember that the Search Engines are constantly on the lookout for the very best content on the web about that particular product. Put in the hard yards and create rich, meaningful product descriptions and you will soon see your pages accelerating up the rankings and driving more traffic and sales.
- Unique title tags and description tags – these are your sales messages and a compelling title tag and description can generate significant clickthroughs, even if you are not in the first position. Not every ecommerce platform can do this, but our two preferred ones, Bigcommerce and Magento certainly do
- Images – take the time to name your product images correctly before you upload them. Not DSC1217 but “luxury-hamper-champagne-1217”, and also add an Image ALT tag “Luxury Hamper With Champagne”
- XML Sitemaps – an XML sitemap is essentially a shortcut for Search Engine spiders. A link to a properly formatted XML sitemap from your robots.txt file (the very first file a Search Engine spider looks for when crawling your server) guides the spiders to a list of every URL on your site. It may not mean that your pages will rank higher, but it will mean that more of your pages get indexed
- Don’t be lazy – yes, it takes time to get everything right – writing up a unique product page and adding balanced but keyword rich content to all the elements can take ten or fifteen minutes; and when you are looking down the barrel of 50 similar product to upload, there is not a lot of joy. Choose you battles wisely then – start with the most important five and get these exactly right, then monitor the results and if you see sufficient outcomes from those, then update another five and so on.
And Now We Make A Big Call
Very soon, what we currently in-house have named “Blended Retail” will become the norm…the retail experience will become a combined online and bricks and mortar experience, taking the best of both worlds and delivering customers what they want – great products, great prices, great service and an awesome shopping experience. Watch this space.