Online shops need to enter the real world

Most shopping is done offline; shouldn't your products and services be there...?

Most shopping is done offline; shouldn’t your products and services be there…?

Shoppers are spending more money than they did a year ago. Even though we’ve had the credit crunch, sales over the past year increased in value by almost 5%, in spite of only a 1.8% rise in volume. In other words, only slightly more things were sold, but we are paying higher prices for them. Interestingly, this data from the Office for National Statistics shows that sales on the Internet have risen to 8% of all retail selling in the UK. Or to put it another way, 92% of all items are sold offline.

This is particularly important for small businesses and Internet entrepreneurs. The detailed figures from the Retail Sales Statistical Bulletin [PDF] show that the bulk of the increase in all sales – online and offline – happened in companies that employed more than 100 people. For companies that employ less than 10 people, the past year has seen a fall in sales of 1.1%. Many online companies are small businesses selling products and services from the comfort of their own homes. In spite of an overall trend for rising sales, this is the only sector which has seen a fall.

People are clearly flocking to the supermarkets and large chains to buy things. Which begs the question – if you want more sales, why are your products or services not on sale there? And don’t tell me you can’t sell services in a supermarket. They sell DVD boxes containing holiday insurance and will soon be selling will writing services in the same way. If it’s ethical and they can make money out of it, they’ll sell it.

Meanwhile, small online companies struggle on. The increase in online sales – like offline sales – is mostly in the large business sector. Small businesses are reporting tough selling conditions online. Perhaps it is time for a different e-business model?

What if small businesses that have worked exclusively online were to package up their products and services to sell them offline? Most people shop offline, so if you are exclusively online you are potentially cutting out 92% of your marketplace. Does that make sense?

Imagine you run what seems at first sight an exclusively online business, like search engine optimisation. Now imagine packaging that up into a product – “Get to the Top of Google in a Week”. You produce a small booklet explaining the service which you put inside a DVD box with a nicely designed cover. There is also an insert in the box which includes a Password Key which gives buyers access to your website where they can enter all the details necessary for you to do the work. Then you put those boxes on sale in local bookshops frequented by business people, perhaps, or in the reception area of your local Chamber of Commerce. They take a commission on the sale, of course, but you get more business. Almost every online product or service can be packaged up and sold in real world environments.

Considering that most buying happens in the “real world”, realising that most small businesses online have seen a fall in their sales over the past year and knowing that your competitors aren’t doing it, isn’t it time you entered the “real world” for your Internet business? Putting your products and services on sale offline, could bring you more online sales than concentrating on tweaking your website or fiddling with your analytics data. Get real.

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