Internet use is growing year to year, and as more and more people have access, more and more companies are recognizing the importance of integrating some form of e-commerce as part of their marketing portfolio. The internet never goes offline, and sites are accessible every hour of the day – there are no opening and closing times on the internet. For the average working person, the ability to be able to do their shopping in the comfort of their own home is welcome and is becoming a very popular method of purchasing goods. Even for customers who still prefer the reality of a high street store, the internet provides a way of researching the product they are after, to compare different prices from different outlets, and to gain a bit of prior knowledge about what they want that they can be armed with when listening to the sales patter of an overly enthusiastic salesperson.
Another advantage of the internet is its worldwide reach. Retailers no longer have to have stores in many locations to become a national brand – by selling through the internet, they can get their product seen by thousands of more people. However, it is not as simple as setting up online and customers automatically flocking to your site; a lot of hard work needs to go into promoting your online store, in exactly the same way as a standard shop. The only difference is cost, in that whilst you may end up paying a couple of thousand pounds in total to be listed permanently in online directories such as Yahoo and Google, you will still make savings on startup fees, rent, and other overheads that accompany a traditional store. These savings can then be passed on to the customers, who then get the products at a much cheaper rate than they would in the shops.
The disadvantages of having an e-commerce store lie with the security and privacy element. There has been an increase year to year in the amount of online fraud, which does nothing to calm the nerves of customers who are unsure whether to hand over their personal details over the internet. There is still a big difference in the number of customers who would use the internet to research a product and those who would actually make the purchase over the internet. Whilst above it was mentioned that running costs are a lot lower online, companies still need to employ a web team to keep the site up to date, and make any necessary changes. These workers would need to be more qualified and more skilled than the average shop assistant, for example. Finally, a lot of customers still need the reassurance of being able to touch the product and see it in full 3D before they decide to buy – pictures can be deceiving, and no matter how high the quality of the image, products can seem entirely different in real-life perspective.
Undoubtedly then, businesses would be foolish to overlook the power of the internet and should do their utmost to incorporate some form of e-commerce into their current marketing portfolio, but be aware of the major differences between selling online and selling in real life, and build up a high level of trust with their customers.