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Deciding whether to sell online or open a storefront — or both!

Digital store or brick and mortar? If you're still undecided on what's best for your business, here are a few tips to help you weigh the pros and cons.

3 min. read

Speed, convenience, price and brand are four factors that Canadian shoppers look for in a shopping experience, whether online or in-store. When deciding whether to sell your products online or offline, take note that a recent survey conducted by the Retail Council of Canada and Microsoft Canada concluded that bricks and mortar (storefront retailing) still reigns supreme. Approximately 90% of sales in the largest product areas, including discount, grocery and department stores, still take place in stores – not online. The storefront also still dominates in specialty retailing (stores that sell specific products, such as women’s clothing or office supplies), with only 25% of sales to Canadians happening online.

While these numbers offer a persuasive argument for opening a shop at the mall or on Main Street, major retailers are moving in both adirections, from storefronts to online and back gain. For instance, Walmart® is competing with Amazon® by expanding its online options without ignoring its physical stores, where it has ramped up customer service. Meanwhile, Amazon has purchased the Whole Foods®† grocery chain to compete head-on with traditional grocers, including Walmart.

Retailing is tough these days, and you don’t have to be Walmart or Amazon to encounter the same issues. As a retailer, you need to serve your customers whenever, wherever and however they want to shop. The challenges are great, but as a retailer, you have to start somewhere. Here are a few things to consider.

Younger shoppers think differently about shopping

Young adults born in the 1980s and later tend to be more interested in experiences than they are in products. Accordingly, retailers are merging online and offline experiences by adding touchscreen navigation panels, installing virtual fitting rooms next to clothing racks, using smartphones for checkout and introducing “click and collect” services to encourage shoppers who often shop online before heading out to shop in person.

Embrace short-term retail solutions

Pop-up shopping (setting up a temporary physical storefront) offers a way to successfully bridge the online vs. bricks-and-mortar experience without making a massive financial commitment. In the U.K., for example, pop-ups accounted for about $4 billion (CAD) in sales in 2015, up 12% compared to 2014. footnote 1

“As a retailer, you need to serve your customers whenever, wherever and however they want to shop.”

Customers expect some businesses to sell online

If you sell business-to-business goods or items in bulk, selling online may be the expected channel. But don’t forget that some demanding customers will insist that there is someone always available via email and/or phone to answer questions, especially customers who plan to spend what they consider to be a lot of money.

The key thing to remember when deciding to sell online or offline is to go where your customers are. Where do they expect to find your products or services? While one channel may work best for you and your customers, a mix of online and offline can help you keep pace with the rapidly changing retail world.

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