Why local consumers make online purchases and how local retailers can adapt to the growing e-commerce culture.
Being involved in a small-town business community in Whiteville, NC, we hear a lot about the importance of shopping locally and avoiding sending our money out of the county and state through online shopping. We know that shopping locally keeps more dollars circulating in our county’s economy, and shopping with a locally-owned establishment circulates even more. People in our county get the concept, but still choose to buy online for a variety of reasons (and not just for bargain hunting). Three of the most common reasons include:
- Hours of Operation – What time does your retail store close? Many locally-owned retail shops have inconvenient hours for people who work the standard 8 to 5 job. People turn to the Internet as a convenient way to shop when most local establishments are closed.
- Research – People want to make well-informed purchase decisions, so they use the Internet as a research tool to narrow down their search. After an hour of researching a product online it’s really easy to click the purchase button and be done with it (even if you think you can purchase the product locally).
- Convenience – Running all over the county looking for a specific item can be a frustrating experience when you come up empty handed. Sometimes people find the Internet to be a “sure thing”.
By having an online presence of your own, you not only increase sales by removing these barriers for your customers, you are also providing consumers with an opportunity to bring outside money into our local economy. E-commerce sales have almost doubled since 2009 yet an alarmingly small percentage of retailers in our small towns have an online presence. Here are a few reasons why I think every retailer in our county should have their own e-commerce store.
- Drive In-Store Sales with Local Consumers – By putting your entire inventory online, you will make it easy for local consumers to shop your store while it is convenient for them. Your online website never “closes”.
- Sell to Former Residents – We always hear about how our young people go off to college and never return because the opportunities are not here for them. This population as well as other long-time residents that have moved away from our area have a special affinity for Columbus County and the cornerstone businesses that they loved to shop at. Make it easy for them to become customers again.
- Bolster Your Social Media – What good is a healthy Facebook following if you can’t sell to your fans online? By having an e-commerce store you can promote new product lines and give them a means to purchase right away.
- Getting Inventory Online is Becoming Easier – We recently programmed an e-commerce website for a local jewelry store and we were able to populate their website with thousands of pieces of inventory by connecting their website with their internal business system so that their inventory flows through to the website automatically.
- Better Search Engine Traffic – When your 5 page brochure website becomes a 1,000 page e-commerce site, search engine users now have 995 more ways that they can find your website.
Improvements in technology over the past 5 years have made it easier than ever for small businesses to make the leap into e-commerce. Still there are many factors that retailers will have to consider before making the move. Find a local e-commerce consultant that can help you develop an e-commerce strategy for your business. Most firms will be happy to sit down with you and develop a no obligation proposal that will meet the specific needs of your business. We all want our neighbors to shop local. It’s time we make it easier for them.
Jonathan Medford is a partner of Inspire, a marketing firm that specializes in Branding, Inbound Marketing, Advertising and E-Commerce. He lives in Whiteville, NC where he is actively involved in the Whiteville Rotary Club and Columbus Chamber of Commerce & Tourism.