by John Weller Jr.
In my work with FloorForce, I interact with independent flooring retailers daily. The buzz on the street is e-commerce—often considered to be the antithesis of the traditional way to sell flooring—and what effect it may have on sales in brick and mortar stores.
While at the National Wood Flooring Association convention I spoke with many dealers and distributors, and was amazed by the frequency with which I was brought into conversations about the opportunities for sales and increased market share made possible through e-commerce.
Through countless conversations with distributors, manufacturers and retailers and my education of Internet marketing gained from my time at FloorForce, I have some thoughts on the subject.
E-commerce websites and e-commerce business in general has grown immensely in the last five years and, in my opinion, will continue to grow exponentially. The current generation, and certainly the next generation of shoppers, is not only more comfortable with e-commerce but prefers it when given the option of traditional shopping in many cases.
With that said, I am still not sure pursuing e-commerce is the best opportunity today to increase sales or profits for a typical floor covering retailer. Here are the pros and cons as they specifically relate to the flooring retailer:
•A website with a product catalog is essentially a showroom that is open 24/7.
•Internet sales can possibly bring extra business you would have never acquired if you were not set up as an e-commerce business.
•E-commerce allows you to sell outside of your market.
•E-commerce does not require a large storefront with thousands of samples.
•Many top manufactures are not in support of the e-commerce model and are taking a hard look at moving away from supporting it, or limiting their products being sold on e-commerce websites.
•National or even multi-city Internet advertising is expensive and complex to manage; to launch a successful e-commerce site, one must be willing to spend a significant amount of money just to learn what works. One must also understand Internet advertising is an always-changing environment that must be expertly and constantly managed to achieve a return on investment.
•Unlike a traditional website, an e-commerce site must be kept up-to-date in real time, meaning product info and inventory must be absolutely accurate. Nothing will guarantee failure to an e-commerce site faster than selling an item that is discontinued, mispriced or not in stock.
•Launching an e-commerce business requires a lot of expertise that is not commonly present at most floor covering dealers; to successfully launch into e-commerce probably requires new hires, considerable time and investment into a business model that has not yet been convincingly proven to work in the floor covering industry.
E-commerce may be something that will be inevitable, but I believe there are less costly and better paths to take right now to grow your business.
Consider these before spending a lot of time, energy and money pursuing the questionable concept of selling floor covering over the Internet. Here are my suggestions for competing with e-commerce stores, mega retailers and the box stores and winning over their customers to grow market share:
•Make sure your website is professionally designed, is enticing to your target audience, gives multiple ways to communicate and portrays your strengths in a quick visit.
•Include product images, prices and pictures of installations on your website. Today’s consumers are used to shopping online, comparing products and seeing reviews. A product catalog is highly recommended and is the norm on websites of the most successful flooring dealers today.
•Have a highly visible website. This can be achieved by investing in search engine optimization (SEO), and/or a pay per click advertising campaign.
•Advertise the fact your company is locally owned and operated, has a showroom where they can see your products, has a well-trained staff to help them, and has installation services. These attributes are not shared by most e-commerce companies and will give the consumer more than one reason to stay away from strictly online companies, box stores and the mega retailers.
In my opinion, consumers have become very comfortable shopping for many items via the Internet. Best Buy’s recent announcement it is creating a new, smaller store with a lower overhead is proof consumers are enjoying these savings via the Internet.
The good news for the floor covering dealer is most of the current e-commerce items such as electronics, clothing, games and books require very little if any service after the product is ordered. Fortunately, the level of customer service that is expected and really needed to properly sell floor covering is not available through e-commerce.
For now, if you focus on delivering a great buying experience that includes a highly visible and engaging website, great customer service, adequate pro-duct selection, product knowledge, along with expert installations, you should be positioned to gain market share and have overall success now and in the future.
John Weller Jr. is the vice president of marketing for FloorForce. For more information on how to create a professionally designed website, visit floorforce.com or email us at socialnetworking@ floorforce.com.