We’ve all seen the headlines: ‘Online to kill off traditional retailers’, ‘Aussie retailers losing out to overseas companies’. However, I believe online should not be seen as a threat by retailers, but rather, as an opportunity to be embraced.

Aligning your online presence with your offline presence will boost sales and increase your customer base. Having a website or social media presence can work for everyone from small businesses to large corporations. Not taking advantage of online is growing to be the equivalent of not having a bricks and mortar presence.

While Australian businesses have been lucky in the past to operate in a geographically isolated country, ecommerce has changed all that. Now we are fighting against retailers from around the world for customers’ dollars.

While this may sound like a threat to some, with a bit of know-how, creativity and common sense, it doesn’t have to be, because it is a two-way street. Australian retailers can branch out to encompass an international customer base, or if your sights aren’t that high, customers from areas previously unattainable.

Australian retailers have a responsibility to join the online retail revolution to entice customers to purchase their goods online, otherwise they will be left behind.

Below are some tips for taking advantage of online for your business:

Branding: A critical success factor in creating an effective online presence is aligning your brand’s story both offline and online.

Customers remember stories more than they remember facts so by creating a story you are giving customers an emotional connection to your brand. Think about some of the biggest brands today (Facebook, Apple, Coca-Cola). All of them started with a story which they have used to their advantage to become icons in today’s market.

Stories can create change, and can bring brands to life by motivating, persuading, informing or inspiring customers. Once you have your story, use it to shape your branding across all platforms, keeping in mind your target audience and what they want from your business.

Point of difference: What are your customers looking for from your business? Or what are your competitors not providing? For example, a clothing store could offer guaranteed overnight delivery to ensure their customers have their clothes in time for the big event on the weekend, or a furniture store could have a money-back guarantee if any furniture delivered has scratches or marks.

Get inside your customers minds and think about what would make them buy from your store rather than the hundreds (or thousands!) of others available online. It doesn’t have to be cost-based, either; great customer service goes a long way in ensuring customer loyalty.

Social media: Social media can be used in a number of different ways, from driving people to your website using links, competitions, etc. to using it as an information sharing tool to foster goodwill and loyalty with followers.

Australians are some of the heaviest users of social media in the world. While it may not be appropriate or cost-effective for you to sell your goods directly through a Facebook store, it can be used as an engagement tool to encourage sales of your products.

No one social media strategy will work for all businesses but creating a plan is a start – think about who you want to target, the channels they use and what they are looking for.

The revenue from online retail is only going to grow and to make a decision not to be a part of it could be a costly one in the not too distant future.

Josh Frith
BY Josh Frith ON 4 October 2011
Managing director, The Dubs