Hiding your products is a worse strategy than ever

I had a very interesting chat this morning with a local company (run by a relative) that had – back in April – commissioned an online store, as an emergency response to the pandemic. In the event, the company were able to reopen their physical premises to customers in June, earlier than they’d feared might be the case. This turned out to be a week or two before the online store was completed, so the business never went ‘online-only’, even temporarily.

So was it worth it? The company reports that it hasn’t had a single order through the online store yet. But its sales are through the roof, they’re looking at taking on new staff and are working their socks off. What’s going on?

It seems to be a mixture of things, but it turns out that there’s definitely been a positive impact from the existence of the online store. People are visiting the company’s premises and asking to talk to sales staff clearly having seen the online store and having an idea of what’s available. Before, the company’s marketing message had been “We’re really good, come and talk to us”. Now effectively they’ve added “…and here’s what we’ll be offering you.”

They have competitors who have laid out their products on the line this way for years, and I think that’s the key. Customers have several suppliers to choose from, and many have searched online and narrowed down the choices to the suppliers who do show them the products and the prices. They don’t want to buy online – they want the advice before they buy – but they don’t want to possibly waste their time contacting a supplier who might not have what they want.

I’ve heard B2B companies saying for years that their products and services are far too complicated for anyone to buy without talking to a sales representative, and that’s fair enough. But is that a good reason not to have products and prices laid out clearly on a website? Or is it just covering up a different reason?