Online United States commerce in 2009 totaled $145 billion, according to the Census Bureau's figures. Online sales are part of everyday business life for everyone from toy stores to groceries to engineering firms. Your business can gain considerable advantage by maintaining an online sales presence, including multiple sales channels.
Businesses with an interest in online retailing can go any one of several routes. Some businesses, such as Amazon and Netflix, dispense with the cost and staffing requirements of a brick-and-mortar store and exist only on the Internet. Other companies, such as Barnes & Noble, use their store and their website as two separate sales channels. In addition to conventional retail, online sales also include business-to-business transactions and consumer to consumer sales, such as eBay offers.
Using the Internet as your primary sales channel offers multiple advantages. Building a website is cheaper than opening a store, and you can reach customers online anywhere in the world. Shopping is easy and comfortable for customers, and you can customize their experience based on past sales and preferences. Some businesses still work better offline, however: Clothes shopping, where there's no way to confirm the fit until the customer tries the outfit on, doesn't adapt as well to e-commerce as selling books or ordering flowers.Related Reading: The Definition of Multi-Channel Retailing
Instead of adding a second sales channel to your brick-and-mortar operation, online retailing may be able to add several. The TWO Chemical Logistics firm, for example, has set up a web portal that chemical producers and other companies in the industry can use to sell their services or products. Users can use TWO's portal rather than set up their own online sales site or they can use it as a second channel.
Even if your brick-and-mortar store is your major sales channel, there are still advantages to having an online presence. Consumers who don't want to shop online may still do research, looking up product specs, studying dress designs and comparing your prices to those of your competition. If you decide to move into e-commerce with your own website, you'll have to do it right: An attractive site that's easy to use and to navigate is essential if you want visitors to return.