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According to the NAB Online Retail Sales IndexAustralians spent approximately $16.7 billion on online retail in the 12 months to February 2015, an increase of 9% year on year. This figure is record-breaking within the Australian online retail space, showing a definite trend towards online spend as opposed to more traditional forms of retail, where sales have had very moderate growth of 4.7%.

With an increasing number of consumers looking to make purchases online, business owners are looking for ways to get involved in online retail and digital marketing. Whether you are selling products or services, utilising the digital space has proven to have many perks, from the obvious sales and marketing benefits all the way through to reducing your carbon footprint.

By going digital, your ‘keeping Australia green’ contribution can be enhanced by minimizing your travel, creating a paperless business and having fewer buildings to power and maintain. You are also reducing your business overhead costs and benefiting from the flexibility to change your marketing message quickly to suit changing market trends.

It has never been more tempting for business owners to have a slice of the online retail pie. There are a few considerations before taking the first steps towards e-commerce and digital marketing that will maximise your results and deliver the most impact in return for your online activity.

Where to start?

The first step in any new venture is always daunting and it is easy to understand why business owners may feel a little apprehensive when considering moving their business towards the digital space. Many questions will arise, but the most important things to keep in mind are: how much of my business do I want to move towards the online space – will it be just the marketing aspect, or do I want to operate a purely digital based business? Who am I trying to communicate with and what method of communication do my audience respond to best? How will I best represent my business’s personality and brand identity online?

Once you have a clear direction for your digital activities, the next step is to put together an online strategy which will help you move towards your goals and objectives and should support your existing business strategy. It is important to remember that you don’t need to try to get everything nailed down and perfect first time; when your online strategy has been implemented and operational for a period, you can then review and refine it to more closely suit your small business or organisation’s needs.

Check out these modules of online business strategies you can try out for your business.

It is also a good idea to consider what suits your business needs best. It is important to ask, would a traditional bricks and mortar space, or an online business provide the best result for your product or service? There are advantages and disadvantages to both and these can include;

Bricks and mortar:

Advantages

  • Location-based marketing: As a business owner you can use the actual location of your store as a marketing tool. If your store is in a great location that is easy to access, or in a high foot-traffic zone, you don’t have to spend too much money on marketing your business as it is highly visible and you can work on creating great word-of-mouth referrals by focusing on customer service, your product lines and setting up an eye-catching store layout and design.
  • Tangibility: Bricks and mortar stores have one great advantage over digital stores; customers can actually look at, touch, smell, feel and hold the product before purchasing. The tangibility aspect of bricks and mortar stores is so important to some customers that they will not make a purchase until they have actually held the products in their hands.
  • The human touch: Being able to walk in to a store and have the ability to ask a real person for advice about a product or service, or even have a chat with someone friendly is one aspect of the purchasing experience that just cannot be replaced by the online space.

Disadvantages

  • High start-up costs: The initial costs of starting up a business can be astronomical. Rent, stock, staff, furniture, marketing and connecting electricity, telephone and the internet are all but some of the costs that will be incurred in the initial stages of setting up a bricks and mortar store. These costs are sometimes unachievable and can deter many people before they even get started.
  • Higher prices: Because of the higher day-to-day operational costs, bricks and mortar businesses are limited with their prices and will find it difficult to compete with online businesses that can provide lower costs due to lower overhead expenditures.
  • Geographically bound: As bricks and mortar stores are based in one location, they have a much smaller geographical reach than their digital counterparts. This limitation has a direct impact on profit margins which is quite detrimental when operating in a competitive market.

Digital Business

Advantages

  • It’s a big world out there: Digital businesses are not limited geographically. A business in Australia can cater to clients all around the world leading to potentially higher profits and greater brand reach.
  • No pressure: Online shopping is free from the pressures of sales staff – the whole transaction is less stressful and even time-saving making the experience easy, enjoyable and fast.
  • Accessibility: Individuals with disabilities and seniors who have trouble travelling appreciate the ease of online shopping. Limiting the difficulties of getting to your business means that you are reaching a large untapped audience that need and want your products and services.
  • Low start-up costs: The cost of starting up your online business is relatively low, meaning that if you have a great idea, a plan and some start-up capital, you could be on your way to creating a successful business. The low cost of creating a digital store has meant that some brilliant ideas and concepts have been able to come in to the marketplace and be quite successful, an opportunity that may have not been possible in a bricks and mortar world.
  • Keep it fresh: As an online business, you have the ability to change your messaging and promotion easily and quickly. You can react directly to market trends and to what your customers are asking for much faster than your more traditional competitors. This flexibility is a tremendous advantage as your customers will see you as being on trend, cutting-edge and attentive to their opinion. Check out these effective Social Media Marketing tips.
  • The green factor: Running your business online can have extensive benefits for the environment as there are fewer cars on the road, less paper being used and generally, less electricity consumed. In a time where more and more consumers are becoming aware of sustainability and great importance being placed on environmental responsibility, being a business that is aware of their carbon footprint can give you a leading edge in the minds of your customers.

Disadvantages

  • Trust: Some customers find it very difficult to trust online retailers or are afraid of making online payments as there is a lack of human interaction. There have been many horror stories about consumers buying a product that turns out to be of low quality or that looks nothing like the picture. With the advancement of technology and safe payment options, these issues are becoming less worrisome for a lot of consumers.
  • Staying original: Because your product and service descriptions can be viewed by such a vast number of people online, it is much easier for others to copy your product, idea, branding or logo and compete directly with you. This is a big concern for many business owners that have original and one-of-a-kind products and services.
  • Resilience: Slow internet connections, website crashes and other technological issues can cause big headaches if you are relying on fast and reliable connectivity for your business to operate smoothly. Any disconnection or technical issue can cause losses in profit, time and productivity and even go as far as damaging your brand. These scenarios can be overcome by implementing proper back-up practices and ensuring that you have saved your databases, client information and important documentation in a safe and secure spot which are not affected by technological mishaps.

When considering the advantages and disadvantages of both bricks and mortar and digital business, it has to be said that one does not have to exclude the other. If possible, you could have physical retail presence which is enhanced by an online store, greatly increasing your market share, return on investment and brand reach.

Check out Digital Ready’s helpful training modules to start growing your business online.

Where to next?

Once an online strategy has been set in place, coinciding with your business strategy, the next step is to implement it. This step requires planning and has its own considerations that need to be understood for successful implementation to occur. For example, business owners need to think about how to get your messages to your audience and how often; what design, development and search engine optimisation you will use and which groups you will follow on social media and why.

You will also need to scope and cost the development of a shopping cart for ecommerce; learn how to set up accounts with PayPal and provide secure payment options so that your customers feel safe when purchasing form your online retail store. It is really important to be proactive in checking that these functions are working well, efficiently and promptly, as customers are quick to move away if they feel that these services are outdated.

It is always important to reflect on, evaluate and refine your online strategy once it has been implemented. What has worked well? What can be improved? How can I do it better? These questions will help you to provide the best possible service for your customers and maximize your results. There are certain ways to know what is working well within your strategy and what isn’t, it is important to listen to what your customers are saying to you. If your main source of communication with your audience is via social media, pay close attention to the feedback you are receiving from your clients as they will be your best guide to what your target audience wants more or less of.

You can also look at the different analytic tools which measure your presence online. For example, you can measure how many people visit your website, how much time they spend on each page and where they click through on your page the most. This information is crucial when making future product or promotional plans and will help you get the most out of your strategies. You should also make sure that, as your business grows and changes, your goals are still relevant and feasible and change as your business strategy changes.

Finally…

Whether you’re selling products or services, it is evident that the digital space can be a very effective tool to maximize your business by putting you directly in front of your target audience in a convenient and timely manner. You can also improve the day-to-day running of your business; cut costs and time spent on wasteful tasks; contact audiences previously unreachable, such as those with disabilities and reduce your impact on the environment.

Going digital also enables real-time communication with your specific audience, easy collection of feedback and direct engagement with your audience – this is gold dust for most companies as they find out how well their customers are responding to their messaging immediately, allowing them to be nimble and responsive to change. It is also very important to keep up with the latest digital trends and technologies so that you may be your customer’s first choice when making their buying decision.

  • To take advantage of the digital technology, visit Digital Ready. is a new training opportunity which equips small business owners, organisations and clubs with the skills to take advantage of digital technology in growing their business.

To assist with this, we have developed six comprehensive Online Learning Modules. For more information and advice on how to use the digital space to maximise your business, increase your marketing reach and gain the most results from your ecommerce site go to digitalready.org.au/kits-digitalready.

This article was originally featured on the ALSCO website at this address:

http://www.alsco.com.au/2015/05/how-using-the-digital-space-can-maximize-your-business-while-keeping-australia-green/