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While many retailers have already discovered the benefits of e-commerce, some smaller businesses may not be aware of the unique ways e-commerce can benefit them. Even the most locally focused shop can profit from e-commerce. Local businesses shouldn’t feel limited by their locale; they should embrace e-commerce as a low-cost option for staying relevant in a competitive economy.
One of the most important reasons for local businesses to try e-commerce is that it immediately—and exponentially—expands the customer base. From 2010 to 2015, the amount of time the average person spends online grew by 105%, and this trend shows no signs of waning. We’re increasingly wired in, and local businesses stand to benefit the most by reaching potential customers who might otherwise never set foot in their stores.
Additionally, customers are increasingly interested in researching products online. Even someone who eventually plans to come into your store will likely search for information before making a purchase. Local businesses can use e-commerce as an opportunity to showcase the unique qualities and features of their products and highlight products customers might otherwise overlook.
For businesses that sells unique items or specialty products, the local customer base may be a fixed commodity. Especially for niche retailers, there may be a cap on the number of local customers who would be interested in a store’s merchandise, even with the most successful marketing strategies. E-commerce provides the opportunity to reach hundreds or thousands more customers seeking those particular items. The odds are high that whatever a store sells, there are many people who would buy the products if they had access to them.
For existing customers, e-commerce offers greater opportunities for local businesses to create better connections. These days, many people have grown accustomed to shopping at their convenience. Most local businesses, however, can’t afford to stay open 24-7. Providing an e-commerce option encourages loyal customers to buy your products, even when they want or need to shop after hours. E-commerce solutions can integrate with POS systems so that online shoppers can see the most up-to-date inventory.
E-commerce tools also collect valuable data on customer behavior that can help local businesses create more effective marketing strategies and offer customized deals to regular patrons. Based on a customer’s purchase history, e-commerce platforms can alert the customer to new products that may be of interest. Data collected by e-commerce local business owners can be mined for a better, more specific customer experience.
One of the strengths of e-commerce is its low overhead. Opening a physical location requires a space, a way to display inventory, and personnel to run the store. This adds up to significant expense. Depending on a store’s location, the local market may not be enough to support the cost of a second location.
Opening an e-commerce “location” is a fraction of the cost, and it has the potential to help the business expand more rapidly and extensively than a physical location. One of the reasons e-commerce is so cost effective is that it doesn’t typically require any additional staff. With an integrated e-commerce system in place, local businesses can easily take orders and track shipments, ensuring existing staff can easily process e-commerce orders.
As people spend increasing amounts of time online, local businesses would do well to meet their customers where they are. E-commerce offers local businesses unique opportunities to build new and better customer relationships and expand without significantly increasing costs. With the tools provided by e-commerce, local retailers can reach a global market, ensuring their businesses will thrive in the future.
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