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Seriously? An online store? In our market?

Last year, I helped a relative set up a much stronger web presence for his bed shop. Now, I know that few readers here are in the retail sector, but there is an interesting lesson to be learned from the fact that the most successful idea we implemented was to set up an online store.

I doubt many beds are sold online, certainly not by independent retailers. Beds are the sort of product that people want to see, test and discuss before buying. So why set up an online store? Simply because it acts as an online catalogue, in a format that website visitors are very familiar with. A very large number of customers now come into the shop showing enough idea of what they want for us to know that they’ve spent quite some time looking at the online store.

One of the things that the online store demonstrates quickly is the extent of the product range available, which is way more than can be on display in the shop at any one time. This is a huge incentive to get more people to visit what is a small independent retailer, rather than a ‘discount warehouse’.

Another benefit of the online store is familiarising customers with the pricing. Although it’s a mid-market store, customers don’t buy beds often and they may be expecting prices closer to the last time they bought one, back in 1995 or whenever. It’s easier to sell beds to customers who already have a realistic price idea in their head.

So, how many beds have been sold online? Almost none. But how many extra customers have come through the door in return for the couple of thousand pounds it cost to set up the online store? We estimate it to be in the hundreds, with a profit of £100 to £1000 on every one who buys something (which – remember – is most visitors, as they already know what they’re coming to the shop for).

Of course, many readers will still not see any relevance in this story. But it may be worth thinking about whether one sales hurdle is demonstrating the size of your product range or its pricing to the market, and whether an online store – even if nobody will use it – could therefore still be a real asset.