Ecommerce was supposed to replace bricks with clicks. I know that sounds cliché, but the logic of online transactions was that the inefficiencies of physical retail would be overcome. And that did happen. But electronic commerce does not mean that ecommerce businesses exist only electronically and are entirely divorced from offline presence. Here are some thoughts on how offline activities can help your online commerce.
- You Could Actually Have an Online-Offline Hybrid Ecommerce Business
A long time ago, I wrote about Tesco integrating online and offline commerce, and Tesco is not isolated in this. In the recent past I have come across ecommerce startups that list their "hybrid model" as their biggest strength. They believe that in the long run, having a physical store will actually enhance the value of their offering. I am not too confident about this, but there is a section of ecommerce commentators that swear by this click-and-mortar model.
- You Could Sell Online, but Market Offline
I am not proposing that you market offline exclusively, but there will definitely be interesting offline marketing opportunities.
For instance, if you are a seller of school supplies, it might make sense to send out mailers to schools in your target area. Depending upon the nature of products you sell, it might also make sense for you to have sales reps visit schools. If my suggestion of having sales reps make sales calls offends your ecommerce sensibilities, you need to think hard about whether you are running a business or trying to meet some inconsequential definition of ecommerce?
- At the Very Least Build an Offline Relationship With Your Vendors
Ok, so you do not want to open a physical store. Your investors fear that your offline marketing plans will render the business model "un-scalable." At the very least, get out of that comfortable chair and go seek the best vendors at the best terms you can negotiate and embark on a long-term relationship. Many ecommerce professionals do not fully appreciate the value of offline vendor relations until they get into a tight spot.
- How About Creating a Unique Product Offline?
I am certainly not recommending that each ecommerce business should sell goods of their own manufacturing, but that is something you could think about. I cannot promise that it will make sense in your specific situation, but it will certainly provide you with a differentiator. If things go well, you should be able to convert this differentiator into a USP (unique selling proposition) that will ensure long-term survival of your ecommerce business.
- You Come Up With an Offline Strategy That Works for You
I do not want to seem like I am skirting the issue here. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy in any aspect of business, much less in marketing. So, you will have to come up with the offline strategy that gels best with your business model and vision. Here are some more quick thoughts. None of these are recommendations. Some of them may be patently wrong for your business. But I hope to stir some original thought that will help you come up with something that works for you.
- Before you implement them on your website, try out your marketing messages offline in limited geographies to see how they work.
- Organize customer meets, especially for your most valuable customers.
- Tie in with some offline event that is symbiotic with your brand values.
- Participate in tradeshows, exhibitions, road shows, and the like.
- Have someone from your organization speak at events where your customers aggregate.
- Be seen in community events that will throw positive light on your ecommerce business.
I think you get the idea. Effective offline presence can help your online success.