“You should sell your products online!” How many successful brick and mortar businesses have heard that from family, friends and most importantly, satisfied customers. If online purveyors of see-through canoes and Nicholas Cage Eye Shadow exist, then a proven commodity should be a sure thing, correct?
To quote legendary UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden, “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” Merely because something is sold online doesn’t mean it is being done successfully (or more importantly, profitably).
The business fundamentals that underlie a successful brick and mortar also apply in the e-commerce world. The last breath for the oxygen bar fad came when it ran out of curiosity seekers. Not many others were going to pay for what they get for free everyday.
Just as the opening of a brick and mortar requires planning, so does the start of an e-commerce presence. The tried and true practice of putting together a business plan is essential. Although aspects of the brick and mortar plan will transfer over, others will not.
Herein we’ll discuss the initial steps of the planning process for a brick and mortar operation adding an e-commerce presence as well. The construction of a traditional business plan has already been well covered by many. In addition to the plethora of writings and videos that can be found online for free, local resources such as the SBA and SCORE can provide in person consultations.
Beginning the Planning Process
“Without a plan, there’s no attack. Without attack, no victory!” Such might be a quote from teen flick One Crazy Summer but it is also true for any small business. If it’s researching e-commerce possibilities, it must formulate a plan that addresses its particular business.
An initial question should be, does e-commerce make sense for my business? Sometimes a product or service might not lend itself to the typical e-commerce model for products or services. The In N Out Burger chain won’t likely be selling its burgers or freshly cut fries online for FedEx delivery to your doorstep.
That’s not to say that brick and mortar businesses serving on site customers cannot have an online selling presence. A comedy club might benefit from reserving and selling tickets online. One might not think that selling customized bowling balls online would be successful. But with free shipping, a large selection and optional hole drilling services, voila, www.bowlingball.com.
Competition also plays into the E-commerce viability of a particular business. The competitive analysis required for a complete business plan is beyond this post’s scope. However, it is important that a brick and mortar understand the need to look beyond its area code or zip code. It must research the competition of its geography in cyberspace.
A Los Angeles fudge maker would not only compete online against Neiman Marcus, but also Murdick’s Fudge on Martha’s Vineyard. Graphic design shop? DesignCrowd.com makes almost 150,000 designers available to cyber shoppers.
However, a brick and mortar operation shouldn’t give up merely because Godiva Chocolates, Amazon and Harry & David are the top 3 search results for a product. Maybe it can fulfill an underserved online niche. Maybe it has the ability to differentiate what it offers. Chocolatier L’Artisan du Chocolat of Los Angeles offers fresh chocolates without preservatives and using less sugar. L’Artisan’s confections such as a 3 Chili Aztec Dark or Mint & Tamarind avoid the realm of mass marketed brands.
On that sweet note, we’ll close regarding the subject of a brick and mortar operation investigating if an e-commerce presence makes sense. In future posts we’ll discuss other aspects of the planning process such as resources required for e-commerce, determining your target audience, how far to cast your cyber net, deciding on policies for shipping and customer service issues.