In the mid-1990s, smart, forward-thinking businesses were asking some valid questions about whether to explore this new world called “The Internet.” Since the World Wide Web as we know it was still in its infancy, business owners were wise to be a little cautious about committing resources to something unproven that also threatened to disrupt traditional commerce methods.
Even analysts were hesitant early on—Newsweek columnist Clifford Stoll had nothing but disdain for the brave new online world in a 1995 piece. Economist Paul Krugman also speculated in 1998 that the Internet would grow slowly and never catch on as a serious business tool any more than the fax machine. Boy were they wrong.
This new model meant that people no longer had to visit a brick-and-mortar store in order to shop or browse. They wouldn’t see the great displays, and shop owners suddenly found that business was more competitive, since consumers now had easy access to products from anywhere in the world. Embracing the concept required a shift in thinking, spending, and merchandising for small business owners.
So while it was probably wise to be a little cautious and take a wait-and-see approach back then, these days more and more business leaders are concluding that being an online hold-out may cost you money. In fact, 93 percent of purchases begin with an online search, which means that without a website, you only have access to seven percent of the existing market. This video we made for our shared hosting platform shows how the possibilities for your business grow exponentially when it can be found online.
You can see how having a website can help people in your community find your business. And that isn’t the only benefit. Here’s our list for why having a website for your business is an absolute must:
24/7 Exposure. Why put an end to shopping opportunities at six p.m.? Your brick-and-mortar location has “office” hours and people who wish to make a purchase or simply have questions will have to accommodate this schedule. But the convenience of a website, especially one that offers e-commerce, is that people can take care of their business on their own time. They can browse, shop, read your FAQs or send you an email—all while you’re sleeping or enjoying dinner out with your family. So quite simply, the more exposure you have, the better chance you have of making a sale.
New Customers. You probably have loyal shoppers who live or work in the neighborhood, but you are missing out on a whole other world of potential customers just because they don’t live in your zip code. Even if you distribute flyers, advertise in the local papers, and send out email blasts, you’re still limited to the customers you know, their friends and family, and other locals. Having a website allows you to tap into a national or international market that is already out there and grow your customer base—not to mention increase sales.
Easy and Cost-efficient. Sure, web design used to be complex when people had to calculate their own color values and program each element of a page. But these days there are plenty of free, do-it-yourself website builders, not to mention a slew of tutorials for all skill levels. WordPress offers thousands of drag-and-drop templates so all you have to do is find one that you like and enter your business’ information. Once you feel a little more comfortable with this basic set-up, you can look into plug-ins, which are smaller programs that can be added to your WordPress page to further customize it. BusinessNewsDaily suggests some other tools to improve your organization, including ways to make your website show up in searches better—which means more traffic to your e-commerce site.
Credibility. Research shows that 89 percent of today’s shoppers prefer to shop online over at a store for the convenience, and the younger generation may even be suspicious of a business’ lack of online presence. Including a website in your branding strategy gives you the credibility that consumers are looking for when they are at the point of purchase. Your website should include a blog where you (or someone you hire) writes posts about your product, service or industry in a way that makes you an expert and the go-to website for information or tips. This furthers your reputation and gives you more credibility, which can, in turn, lead to more sales.
Pre-sell Products. With a website, it’s easy to pre-sell your products that are still in the production process. All you need is one or two quality photos, an alluring description, and an availability date. Get people excited about your new product well before it ever hits the shelves, and gather the customers’ pre-sell orders through your website. Keep in mind that an online presence doesn’t exclude a brick-and-mortar shop; you can always allow shoppers to place the order online but encourage them to pick it up at your location. This is a clever way to get people into the store and create a reputation for being a business with stellar online and offline service.
Stay Current. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 470,000 small businesses close every year. This means that today’s mom-and-pop store owner needs to be a marketer, a social media strategist, a PR expert, a skilled salesperson—and, of course, have a top-notch product to sell. While this may sound like a lot, it is easier to do when you have a website, because much of it is taken care for you. For example, building a website with WordPress makes it simple to optimize your site with keywords for high search engine ranking (marketing), link up to all your social media accounts (social strategy), and include quality photos that, with your eye-catching product description, is sure to draw in customers (sales).
In conclusion, having a website for your store will lead directly to increased sales. So build or commission a website for your mom-and-pop shop and enable more people in your area to discover your local, personalized, in-store service!