In-store Web access helps boost sales

score Question:
I'm hearing a lot about retail stores opening Internet sites. What do you think about it? It sounds like a good way to lose customers I have.

Many retailers are upset by the Internet. They believe that people will take their purchasing behavior over to the Web and leave them high and dry. In some cases, that may be true, but it won't be just because of the Web. The Internet offers a whole new kinds of convenience and informality. It allows customers to shop on their schedule and their terms while sitting in their PJs at the kitchen table.

Astute marketers are placing Internet kiosks in their brick-and-mortar stores. You're probably asking: "Why would they do that? Why show your customers how to find your competitors? Why get him in the habit of going online instead of coming into your store?"

These are excellent questions. The answer can be summed up with one word: "convenience." first, with an Internet kiosk in the store, you can greatly increase your stock and product range with "virtual inventory." This allow your customer to hop on the Web and gain instant access to many choices than you can possibly afford to display in your store.

This leverages your physical and financial resources, and makes you look much larger than you can afford to be. Customers get more than they bargained for, and the product delivered to their homes or to the store for pickup.

Next is the concept of "content," or information. Let's face it, most of your employees have a difficult time trying to remember all the details about your product line, and nothing is worse than that same old "duh, I don't know."

How about this: "I don't know the answer to that one, but let's check on our company Web site. I'm sure we'll be able to find the answer to that question."

You can pack your Web site deep with data relevant to the product lines. And if your customers like to read about a lot of details, they will appreciate this in-store feature.

Third, with the Internet kiosks, your customers can do things in your store that they normally couldn't do elsewhere. This, too, is a distinct form of product differentiation.

Remember the coffee shopes that announced they had Internet access? Now they are called Internet cafes and are generally full all day. When people can entertain themselves in your store, they are liable to linger longer. Obviously, the longer a visitor to your store lingers and wanders, the greater the chance of more sales, in-store or online.

The last major reason for having this equipment in your store is that it provides a logical and user-friendly method to gather more information on your customer base.

Your visitors can interact with the kiosk to enter information about their interests, needs, plans and special dates. They can "opt-in" to receive special online newsletters that address these same preferences. Moreover, when you have excess inventory in one line, you can go to your customer data base and email those who expressed an interest in that item. When a preferred item is about to go on sale, the Web site can alert that customer in advance.

Remember, we're selling "convenience," and we're doing it in a way that differentiates us from all the rest. Perhaps a variation of this concept might work in your store.

Bill Bryan is a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers counseling, workshops and seminars on small business operations. You can reach Bryan through SCORE, 515 N Court St. 815-962-0122, for information and appointments.

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