I’ve talked to several small retailers recently about their e-commerce experience and they all seem to be struggling with it. “Shipping costs are too high”, “It doesn’t pay for the additional staff I need to run it”, and “Building and maintaining the online catalogue is a much bigger task than I expected” are typical concerns. But all of them appreciate the importance of an online presence because customers are so used to getting the information they need from the internet.

So how does the small retailer sustain an effective internet presence without plunging into the commercial minefield that an online store seems to be?

Beyond a basic website, here are six ideas for using the online world to boost sales without the burden of a full e-commerce operation.

  • Coupons found online, redeemable at the store. Everyone loves a bargain and if the customer finds a coupon for your store online while comparing options for buying an item, you could soon have a new customer in the store
  • Reviews found online also displayed in the store. We are all familiar with product reviews in an online context – now bring the online world into your store with reviews displayed next to the product and train your staff to highlight them to customers.
  • Online “membership” with rewards. Being recognized and rewarded when visiting the store with for example “Member’s Day” promotions will serve to incent buying behaviour as well as giving you an opportunity to capture the customer’s preferences and contact details for targeted marketing.
  • In store enticements to visit the small retailer online. Keep the in store/online cycle going by giving the customer reasons to visit you online after they have visited your store. Website links on receipts to online surveys with rewards is a common one.
  • Video content available on the website and in the store. Mirror the online world in the store with common video content, either your own or that provided by your suppliers. Include messages about coupons and membership in your videos ad get the benefit of cross-fertilization from online triggers.
  • Sell supplier advertising both in-store and online as an additional revenue source. Having a supplier pay you to advertise their own products in your store might seem a stretch, but at a minimum joint promotion with coordinated online and in store activities are realistic.

Using the online world effectively can take many forms and, while it requires a commitment whatever approach you take, there are alternatives to full e-commerce that require a much smaller financial commitment, yet offer respectable returns if executed well.