e-commerce on the move as more small biz jump on board

The development of the retail market is shifting rapidly away from brick-and-mortar storefronts and toward e-Commerce venues. In an effort to remain competitive, many small business owners realize the need for an online sales outlet, but struggle to overcome the barrier of entry into the online space. A tremendous shift in shopping behavior is imminent as consumers are becoming accustomed to the conveniences of online shopping; it is apparent that traditional brick and mortar sales will continue to fall while online sales rise.

In 1999 online retail sales totaled to $15 billion or .5% of total retail sales ($2.7 trillion)[1]. By 2007, online sales increased to amount to $126 billion or 3.2% of the total retail sales market ($3.9 trillion), where physical retail sales totaled to $3.77 trillion[2]. In 2009, driven by frugal consumer behavior in a down economy, brick and mortar sales fell to $3.55 trillion while e-Commerce sales rose to $134 billion, representing 3.7% of total retail sales and an 15% increase as compared to 2007[3]. By Q4 2009, total e-Commerce sales were up 14.6% from the same quarter a year earlier. Future econometric projections include reports that e-Commerce sales will represent 8% of total retail sales by 2014.[4]

There is and will continue to be a strong upward trend in online sales, especially as more e-commerce related businesses work to develop ways for consumers to purchase products online and to have them delivered to there door the same day. With the above statistics in mind, a sustainable business trend to watch in 2011 will be the increased incorporation of Internet based techniques in order to stimulate business. That being said, not all business owners have the information they need to jump online and experience the benefits to their primarily physical business.

There are various cost effective techniques that allow all types of businesses to capitalize on this trend and benefit from utilizing the Internet. Below I discuss a number of these web-based methods that physical and online retailers, as well as service providers can utilize in order to maximize productivity and the return on investment from using the internet for their public relations, pales, and business branding purposes.

To begin,  here are a few affordable ways people can utilize the Internet to drive retail sales. Whether you want to drive attention to your online storefront or your physical business, these techniques can effectively and affordably provide businesses with the ability to get their voice heard and their products in the eyes of online shoppers.

Develop a Company Website

Small businesses can set up a private website in order to sell their products online. While this is certainly an effective technique, it takes time and technical knowledge to drive traffic to a small website. Furthermore, the customer development of an e-commerce site can be costly, especially if you online intend use it as a small segment of your business. However, there are a number of affordable software providers that can help businesses set up a company website for a relatively low cost. Here are some examples:

http://www.volusion.com
http://www.vendio.com
http://www.shopify.com
http://www.web.com

Get your products on Internet marketplaces and Comparison Shopping Networks

There are a number of Internet marketplaces and comparison shopping sites that allow businesses to promote products and set up stores. These sites are an effective way of getting  products in the eyes on lot’s of consumers.

There are many sites out there, and some are better than others. It is important to choose a site that will assist you in making sure your listings are up to the marketplace properly and that everything is running efficiently. Sites like eBay and Amazon are marketplaces that allow businesses to list and sell products, and drive a considerable amount of traffic. However, it is really up to the small business to manage their virtual storefront, keep the inventory current, and to run the overall operation efficiently. There are some other online marketplaces and comparison shopping networks that provide a more enticing value proposition and either take a more one on one approach and help businesses throughout the entire process, or provide a more affordable alternative to the larger marketplaces. Here are a few:

Internet Marketplaces
(Sites that allow consumers to buy your products on the platform):

Pricefalls (http://www.pricefalls.com)
eCrater (http://www.ecrater.com)
Bonanza (http://www.bonanza.com)

Comparison Shopping Sites
(Sites that drive consumers to your website to buy products):

Google Product Search (http://www.google.com/intl/en_us/products/submit.html)

TheFind (https://merchant.thefind.com/?utm_source=theFind&utm_content=merchant_center&utm_campaign=Footer)

Furthermore, there are a number of additional creative online techniques that can help generate brand awareness and to stimulate a buzz about for small and medium sized businesses. For instance, if run properly, an online sweepstakes can be a great way to generate lot’s of publicity at low cost.

I have had success running Youtube campaigns on the new Xbox 360 slim and my company utilized a well known technology reviewer (John4Lakers) in order to promote the giveaway, as well as Pricefalls.

Here is a link to the video:

As you will see, the video has received 82,000+ views. So, in exchange for an Xbox (~$250), we were able to get our company name in front of tens of thousands of people – many of which proceeded to register to the site.

If you are a start-up or don’t already have a large following, it can be helpful to promote your giveaway on various sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. In addition, here are some web-based distribution sites that allow businesses to post promotions and in turn let consumers know about the active sweepstakes and giveaways:

http://www.sweepstakesadvantage.com
http://www.winprizesonline.com
http://www.online-sweepstakes.com
http://www.totallyfreestuff.com
http://www.sweetiesweeps.com

The internet is a tremendous resource that is becoming increasingly necessary for small and medium sized businesses to tap in to.

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[1] United States Department of Commerce E-Statistics Report. (Published 07 March 2001)

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, ”E-Stats, 2007 E-commerce Multi-sector Report” (published 28 May 2009); .

[3] U.S. Census Bureau, “Quarterly Retail E-commerce Sales” (published February 16, 2010); .

[4] “Forrester Research 5-year forecast” (published March 08, 2010); .

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