Stop putting it off. Get yourself a Web site. It´s easier than you may think, and less expensive, too. Ken Robbins — who specializes in search engine marketing and online retailing — says it´s a big mistake that most small retailers do not have Web sites.
Robbins — he manages Internet marketing campaigns for clients including Home Depot and Rooms To Go — knows a thing or six about online retailing. Small retailers don´t have to sell online, Robbins says. They just need basic business information on an Internet site.
"It´s what we would call brochure ware," he says. "A basic Web site can be just brochure ware — hours of operation, contact information, basic things sold in your store. Even if you´re a deli — my goodness, you would never sell your sandwiches over the Internet. Or, it would be unlikely that you would. But just having your menu updated once a quarter is a great thing. The Web is so quickly becoming the Yellow Pages."
Two examples of the type of site Robbins is talking about are the Internet locations of his favorite cigar shop and a coffee company near his home. Neither does e-commerce, but customers can find them online.
Small shop owners often feel daunted by the prospect of setting up a Web site, Robbins says, because they think they´ll have to put their inventory on the Internet and deal with all the transactional headaches around credit cards, long distance payments, shipping and that sort of thing. "And that isn´t the case. A great first step is simply to get a five or six-page Web site up with a picture of the store, a picture of the owner, a discussion about the inventory — just sort of showing, "Hey, I´m here. Here´s where we are. If you´d like one of our catalogs, we´ll send it to you."
It´s a great thing to, eventually, go on to doing transactions and e-commerce, Robbins says, "but no one has to start there."
Another plus about having an online presence is that smaller stores can compete with the bigger guys on the Web. "It levels the playing field. A small business can make a ton of money online, particularly if they have some specialty brand," says Robbins, president of Response Mine, an Atlanta-based interactive advertising agency. Frequently, Robbins says, online shoppers will buy from a local store if they discover the local retailer carries the same merchandise as one of the big stores.
He goes so far as to say that he thinks every person in America who carries a business card should have a three-page Web site, at minimum, because it´s just like a business card. "If I were in the printing industry, I would say that I should also open up a Web design shop so that I could set up a Web site for every person that came in to buy business cards."
Having a Web site, Robbins says, is that important.
Next in Retail Strategies, Ken Robbins tells how to set up a simple Web site.