According to the US Department of Commerce, ecommerce sales in the first quarter of 2015 accounted for just 7% of total retail sales. So, despite strong expected growth, ecommerce isn’t yet the saving grace for small and medium-sized businesses struggling to compete with big box prices and inventory. But that doesn’t mean SMBs should ignore ecommerce.
The 7% of US sales in Q1 2015 accounts for $80.3 billion and that number is growing. eMarketer expects B2C ecommerce sales worldwide to grow 17.7% this year. While total retail sales remain steady, this growth in ecommerce clearly points to a fundamental change in the behavior of consumers utilizing digital technology while shopping.
Though we still see studies about surprisingly high numbers of SMBs that don’t have a website, we can’t necessarily conclude they similarly aren’t leveraging ecommerce venues and tools. With marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, SMBs have been able to sell online in the shadow of these huge online brands for quite some time now.
And from a sales perspective, utilizing these sites might be a more effective way for SMBs to drive online sales rather than relying on driving sales via their owned website. In a recent PwC study, 52% of internet users said their favorite retailer was Amazon, and 13% said it was eBay. Furthermore, during the 2014 holiday season, Amazon captured 26.9% share of retail website visits.
While these outlets may have a direct and immediate impact on online sales, as I mentioned earlier, it is unlikely to be substantial for the SMB retailer. Considering the consumer path-to-purchase, the more likely scenario is online research leading to an offline purchase.
Webrooming – the process of looking up products online and then visiting a store to purchase – is the real opportunity for SMB retailers with around 70% of consumers engaging in this activity. One Forrester rep expects webrooming will result in $1.8 trillion in sales by 2017. For this reason, SMBs need to make sure their products are findable online.
Another ecommerce trend that is likely to have an impact on both desktop and mobile purchases is the widespread integration of the “buy” button. This article from the NY Times does a good job of showing how search engines, social media and other online publishers are attempting to weave together commerce and media consumption with the buy button, generating more “purchasable” moments and opportunities.
Today, at the very least SMBs should focus on making their products “findable” online. Whether it is integrating product information to their website or getting products listed for free on marketplaces and search engines like Amazon, eBay, Google Shopping and more, SMBs need to connect with the many consumers looking online for the products they want/need.
Tomorrow, ecommerce will continue to grow and more consumers will embrace online shopping. Much like the offline “impulse buy,” I would expect spontaneity and hasty purchases to increase as consumers understand, trust and become inundated with online shopping opportunities. For that reason, at some point SMBs will need to facilitate online payments from their websites.
While online research to offline purchase is the more common path-to-purchase, future-looking SMB retailers will holistically consider an ecommerce strategy as more and more consumers embrace online shopping. This includes free product listing sites and online marketplaces, as well as website ecommerce tools and even social media advertising.
This logic applies equally to service businesses, which will increasingly be compelled to offer online scheduling and payments through websites and mobile apps. The objective for SMBs, whether retailers or service providers, should be to make their products and services discoverable and buyable on the owned and third party sites or apps consumers use to research and buy.
Joe Morsello (@joemorsello) is the Communications Manager at the Local Search Association (@LocalSearchAssn), an industry association of media companies, agencies and technology providers who help businesses market to local consumers.