Many experts are currently debating the question of whether online or offline presence is more important to a business overall. Although the obvious answer for most companies is to have a presence in both places, this is little help to a small business that is on a fixed budget.
Image Credit: Best Neon Sign Company of Chicago
For a business that must choose either a brick and mortar storefront or an online interface, there are many considerations.
First, where is your customer base coming from?
An online interface is definitely sexier. However, it may not help you to reach your customer base. There is definitely a certain segment of the population that is moving to electronic commerce. They are young (18 – 35) and urban.
If your audience is older, local or rural, having an online interface that rivals an international corporation will likely not bring you the added income that it would take to maintain it.
Second, where can you get the most benefit or return on investment for yourself?
Having an idea of the ROI that you are receiving from your marketing choices is certainly helpful in deciding how to allocate resources. Whether you are taking stock of this yourself or outsourcing the analysis, be sure that you are detailing the actual conversion rate that your website has versus your storefront.
Third, which platform is easier and less expensive to make changes to?
In your analysis, you will certainly find aspects of both your online and offline presence that you can improve. The way to choose which improvements to make should include an assessment of how expensive those improvements will be.
You may want to keep a chart of the ROI of each change that you make one at a time to determine the most effective changes to keep. Most companies try many different things both on and offline before committing themselves to anything over the long term.
Fourth, which platform can you maintain?
Sweeping or vacuuming a store goes a long way in making a customer comfortable. You may think that having an online platform will relieve you of these duties, but an online platform requires maintenance as well. If you are used to maintaining a storefront, you may find it less expensive and stressful to focus your efforts there.
As your budget grows, however, you may be able to maintain both. Online platforms are usually maintained by outsourcing the details to a reputable marketing company.
Examples to think about
Apple Computers: What makes more of a difference for customers? Their website or their store’s placement in high profile malls?
Olive Garden: Do you think Olive Garden captures more business from the traffic that flies through the interwebs or the roads that drive by their beautiful restaurant?
Verizon Wireless: When customers decide that it’s time for a new phone, what’s the most likely point in the customer journey that Verizon will catch a customer? Is it in their stores or on the Internet?
After processing where your opportunities are, make a plan to optimize the storefront or webpage for the customers that will see it. Make sure you are communicating the right messages.
Remember that a customer’s behavior is most influenced by why they think they would shop there (see Simon Sinek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action).
It is usually best to put questions aside as to the overall effect of online and offline interfaces. Do the research to determine how either affects your company specifically, then make a decision for yourself.
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