These days, you’re more likely than not to have made a purchase online over the internet. It’s been estimated recently that more than 60% of all U.S. shoppers have bought something online, and that number continues to steadily trend upward.
The growth of online consumer shopping continues at a rapid rate, as recently borne out by U.S. Census Bureau data. The volume of online sales for the first quarter of 2010 represented a 14% increase over sales during the same quarter of 2009. That number in itself is pretty impressive, but when you look at it from the context of e-commerce sales only accounting for about 4% of the total annual sales volume here in the U.S., it becomes even more impressive. We should look for these trends to continue, particularly as the demographics continue to shift toward more and more internet-comfortable consumers using their keyboards every year.
What’s behind that impressive growth rate? If you haven’t made an online purchase yourself yet, many online shoppers claim these main benefits:
– It’s safer and easier to go somewhere with a web browser than it is a car
– Shoppers can choose between a wider variety of products that can only be shown online
– Since it’s cheaper to run a virtual store than it is a small shop in a strip center, prices can be lower
– Sales tax collection across state lines is not yet strictly enforced
– Making price or product comparisons doesn’t get any easier
– You don’t have a salesperson distracting you
The large “big box” retailers today must offer both sales channels to their customers. A physical storefront where customers can go to personally see, touch, evaluate, and buy their products is the traditional model. Smart retailers now also provide a “virtual” channel (i.e., website) through which most, if not all, of the same services – particularly product and price research – can also be delivered. In many cases a customer can purchase a product online and then go pick it up at the designated store. Most large companies have come to the realization that they need to offer various means of interaction with their customers if they expect to grow their market share.
Increasingly, the necessity of providing a virtual storefront to their customers is becoming more apparent to even small business owners. For example, a local roofer may have only a few commercial accounts and several homebuilders as clients. Since more people are actively shopping for products and services online every day, how much business might be lost by that roofer by not having an online “stake in the ground” that they can also reference? What happens when the free Yellow Pages directories are no longer printed and are only made available online? Even small businesses are finding it makes sense to expand their business presence to the web.
Just as the assembly line changed manufacturing forever, so has the internet forever changed the manner in which business is conducted. We need to recognize, though, that the internet is essentially just another tool that’s been developed and leveraged for use within the retail sales arena. What really matters the most is the relationship between a business and its customers, and this new ability to buy online from your own home can do exactly that.
Author Pieter Grundolf frequently writes about international sales and marketing trends, including the best shopping sites online and other consumer information. Follow Pieter’s upcoming new article series on just what makes the best shopping sites the best.