There are others in the Internet market, selling other products, who think the e-tail window coverings business is so lucrative that they are adding window treatments to their product lines. Should we expect to see your products offered by Amazon.com or Priceline.com? It is almost as simple as click and select, click and pay. If this is how the situation truly is, it will be only a matter of time before every window coverings retailer has closed his door permanently.
Granted there will be items you sell, such as paint, lamps, accessories and other home furnishings, that a consumer may not be willing to wait for delivery from an Internet firm. But, with the few items that would be left, consumers would find them easily available from other retail outlets.
The time for the completing all transitions online will come closer and closer to the arrival of a computer or Internet portal in each home or office. As early as the age of three, children will be finding a computer under the Christmas tree, and beginning to learn to sign on and click.
ROOM FOR SUCCESS
For most retailers reading this article, this scenario is not true. And for those retailers whose stores would fulfill this prophecy, the world of window coverings retailing will be better off when they do close as they give a bad name to retailing, and their poor customer service, combined with their poorly merchandised and operated store, drive customers all the more quickly to the Internet.
Does this mean the opposite is true; that retailers can ignore the Internet, expecting that the price-shopping customer (the one we really don't care about), is the only one who is going to shop in the window coverings stores of the Internet?
The answer here is, No. The answer for the retailer who has been a brick-and-mortar retailer for many years, is that there is room to become a more successful retailer by becoming a click-and-mortar retailer. You may be a retailer who struggles to understand the Internet or even a computer, but this does not mean you need to be left out.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
Let's first spend a few minutes in your store. Many years ago, J.C. Penney was quoted as having said, "There will always be room in the marketplace for a business which provides personal interaction and product knowledge. But if you try to get into the game with us, we will crush you."
Granted, when he said this he was talking about his type of store, and your ability to provide that personal service. The category killers and big box stores had not been invented yet. Neither had the Internet.
When the customer walks into your store, is there a very noticeable difference in the way you display merchandise, the way people can see the various combinations of the products you sell, the knowledge about the products you sell and what the other stores offer customers? Undoubtedly, you have read many articles emphasizing customer service and having a customer-friendly store. The need has never been more crucial.
If your employees do not know customers on a first-name basis, or if the only way a customer sees a product is by way of the manufacturer's display, then there is little difference between you and your competition. And with only a little difference between you and the other retailers, price and the ability to stay at home to order can come into play.
TAKE THE FIRST STEPS
Still, what can you do with the Internet? Your store of the dot-com world starts with creating a simple Web site. And from the experiences of this writer, if people quoting prices for creating your Web site are mentioning prices of $3,000 or more, you need to re-look at the complexity of your Web site, and you probably need to look for someone else to build the site. A beginning site can be only a few hundred dollars. It can start with a few pages containing photos of the various product lines you carry. From this start you can progress to having a toll-free order line, a shopping cart page for customers to buy products online and even an electronic newsletter.
With a Web site, you can draw customers from around the community, and around the world. But if you have visions of these sales, you must have three other things first. One is to have products that the vast majority of retailers do not stock. Two is to have the right keywords on your Web site. Three is information about the customers who have been buying these window coverings from you.
With the first point, unique products, the jury still is out with regard to what people will buy on the Internet. Somehow, it does not seem feasible to expect someone to order a highly custom product such as a window treatment or a gallon of interior wall paint on the Internet. Plus, shipping the item to a distant customer could become cost prohibitive. However, if you sell a unique line of accessories, then you may have an Internet sellable situation.
A brief explanation on the second point: keywords. These are the lighthouses of the Internet which show Internet surfers how to find you. The ability to create these lighthouse words should be a vital skill of the person selected to build your Web site. And you will know if you have chosen the right person, when you go looking on the Internet for the window coverings you sell and the list of Web sites has your store among the first 10 locations. Of course, if you sell carpet, paint, lamps and other home furnishings, you will want to establish lighthouses for each of these product lines as well.
The list of potential customers is important because it allows you to assist customers to more easily shop your store—whether in person or through the Internet. In addition to gathering names and addresses, if your Web site subscribes to a Web tracking service such as WebTrends, you will see where the customers that came to your site live, what they were looking for, how long they visited your site, and other bits of personal information which allow you to continually fine-tune your site.
WHY GO ELSEWHERE?
A progressive retailer is one who creates a monthly electronic newsletter and a print newsletter, which are both sent to customers each month. Why would any customer shop elsewhere? If a customer lives in the area of your store, they might want to visit your store after having found you on the Internet, so they can see and touch the window coverings you offer. If customers do not live near your store, they still can buy from you because they can see detailed photos of the products you offer on your Web site.
You may be a small town business, which has existed in the same brick-and-mortar building for the past 50 years, but now you can have a branch store on the Internet. Your store can become one of the leaders in the coming generation of click-and-mortar retailers.
Do you have to be on the Internet? Perhaps not quite yet. But, why would you want to wait to find out you should have started the new millennium with a new store on the Internet?
Tom Shay is president of Profits+Plus Seminars, St. Petersburg, FL (727) 898-7205; e-mail: TomShay@profitsplus.org www.profitsplus.org.