You may have noticed that every time thereâ€™s a news story about retailers that the journalist includes statistics and quotes about online purchasing continuing to increase to ever-larger volumes.
1. The numbers prove the shift is happening
So the first reason is because people are actually moving away from the traditional way of shopping; preferring to buy online so if you have some way of transacting via the Internet youâ€™ll be where the buyers are going.
Weâ€™re about to hit the tipping point, which will see consumers of products that donâ€™t require sizing doing more and more online purchasing.
To date there has been this assumption that consumers are buying online because itâ€™s cheaper (because there are fewer taxes & little or no overheads for the seller).
The reality however, is that consumers are turning to the online buying experience for a number of other reasons that may surprise you.
2. Margins and costs are reducing the range of available products in stores
About a month ago in an electrical retail store I overheard a conversation between a sales assistant and a couple looking to purchase a dishwasher. Apparently the couple had received a dinner set as a wedding gift and discovered that it didnâ€™t fit into their current dishwasher. After a lengthy discussion and some searching via his computer heâ€™d managed to locate a model that would work for the couple, however the store policy meant he was unable to order it for them. The couple left with the make and model number.
In the physical world of retail it is unprofitable to be all things to all people.
Buyers are restricted to buying the most popular and most versatile of everything, leaving customers with fewer choices.
To protect their profits businesses are watching every penny. That means storage, freight and shrinkage must be considered in the pricing of every item they put on their shelves. And that means that theyâ€™re selling the items with the largest margins straight out of the manufacturers warehouse wherever possible to remain profitable. Increasingly stores are implementing policies that restrict the sale of specific products even if theyâ€™re available through their suppliers due to the costs and lack of margin.
As a result for the sake of choice and being able to solve unordinary problems with niche products, customers are going online.
3. Changes in working hours are difficult to accommodate for most retailers
You know that feeling when you look at a clock and realize you should have left the office and be at home but youâ€™ve still got at least another hours worth of work to do?
The sad thing is that it is an increasingly common experience. There just isnâ€™t enough time to get everything done. And itâ€™s not just our personal time thatâ€™s suffering.
Getting out to shop for personal items, gifts or household essentials is becoming highly challenging during what are traditional shop opening hours.
The problem for many retailers is that the cost to keep their doors open longer and longer to accommodate our changing work habits isnâ€™t something they can afford to do. Wages, electricity and security costs need to be offset with sales from these longer open hours and itâ€™s just not happening because there is a more convenient alternative for customers â€“ the Internet.
In half an hour of online browsing a person can view hundreds of thousands of items and narrow down their search within minutes guided by user comments and professional reviews.
Now compare this to shopping at your local mall, where chances are that your half an hour would be taken up with driving there and finding a car park. Once at the mall youâ€™re competing with other shoppers for pretty much everything â€“ a shopping cart, the attention of a shop assistant, a change room, the cashier, etc. On top of all that you have to carry and transport all your items yourself.
Back to our online shopper... theyâ€™ve been enjoying a coffee whilst shopping and got through the checkout in a matter of minutes and will have their purchase delivered to their door.
4. The value of in-person shopping is in decline
In the early 1990â€™s retailers, in an effort to make even greater profits, moved to a self-service model which meant that shoppers where made to look after their own needs.
Nearly 20 years on, customers are so familiar with the self-service approach to shopping that unless a sales assistant provides exceptional uncommonly high value customer service people would rather do everything themselves to get the transaction done as effortlessly as possible.
That means the reasons for having an in-person shopping are becoming fewer and fewer. Combine with longer working hours and a reduction in the selection items available itâ€™s almost inevitable that people will turn to the convenience of online shopping.
5. There is a never to be repeated window of opportunity right now
With the roll out of Google Checkout and the Google Merchant Center (formally known as Google Base), Google has made serious investments into becoming the middleman between merchants and customers. With its dominance as a search provider thereâ€™s no escaping Googleâ€™s hold over access to peopleâ€™s attention.
Increasingly youâ€™ll see individual product items available for purchase showing up in search results as a result of their expansion into commerce.
The other big player currently when it comes to having captured attention is Facebook. Facebook Marketplace looks a little more like eBay in itâ€™s early days with lots of peopleâ€™s odds and ends up for sale.
However unlike eBay, Facebook is well positioned to turn the Marketplace into a serious commerce contender with items being listed promoted to your network and your networkâ€™s network via your Wall.
For the moment it is absolutely free to advertise your items for sale in the Facebook Marketplace. All you need to do is Post your Listing and wait for someone to contact you. At the moment there is no automated payment processing so you and the buyer need to work it out between the two of you offline. Itâ€™s likely this will change in the not too distant future so thereâ€™ll be a charge.
Then thereâ€™s the ever-expanding Amazon. It is the most sophisticated e-tailer of the three, having been selling online since 1995.
The advantage Amazon has over both Google and Facebook is that it is a pure online retail business, so when people visit this website they are planning to buy. Amazon also has a well-established affiliate program, so all those busy affiliate marketers are out there selling for you as well as Amazon.
Sadly the process for selling via Amazon is pretty difficult and they do want quite a chunk of your sale for the privilege of being part of their store, but the volume of buying traffic they get far exceeds what the average online website could ever expect to achieve.
By making it easier for you to sell your products online through these high traffic websites, you are being given an early adopter opportunity to stake out your own commerce territory before the developing nations turn up in huge numbers.
In the West we have this small window of opportunity to claim dominance in the space of selling online before the manufacturing hubs of India and China arrive and go straight into direct selling.
This golden opportunity gives you the chance to establish systems, customer service processes and knowledge about online buyers that will make the difference when this wave comes.
It will be your ability to attract and maintain customer loyalty that will keep you in business over the long run as the newcomers make all those newcomer mistakes that frustrate and turn buyers off.
So take the time during 2011 to trial online selling and get some experience while you can.