Just because you run a brick-and-mortar retail space doesn’t mean you can ignore that other universe known as the World Wide Web. While it may be true that people must be physically present in order for you to engage with them in business, your online image is still an integral part of that engagement. From a well-cultivated customer experience to keeping up with the Joneses, here are five reasons why your online image is every bit as important as your physical space.
1. Everybody’s Online
Over 3 billion people are connected via the Internet, and that number is just going to keep getting bigger. From staying in touch and staying informed to providing the means by which whole industries accomplish work, the Web’s importance is hard to overstate, even for brick-and-mortar businesses that don’t sell online. More and more people turn to the Internet to do research before they ever venture into a physical store, and if your catalogue, store hours, sales, and mission statement aren’t easily found on a website, you’re likely to lose them to a competitor. Whether you need to get your first website up and running with a free custom website builder or you need to update the oft-ignored one you do have so it loads more easily and reflects your current business, don’t assume your online presence — and the image you convey with it — is secondary.
2. The Customer Experience Demands It
It wasn’t too long ago that providing good customer service summed up the relationship a company had with a buyer. While good customer service is still essential to success, it’s just a piece of a much larger and more complex puzzle, called the “customer experience.” The customer experience is the relationship a person has with a brand, company, or product over time, including all the ways in which interaction occurs across the span of that relationship.
Catching a potential customer’s eye, answering all her pertinent questions, satisfying a need she has in her life, resolving any problems or issues she may have — all of these interactions and dozens more make up the customer’s experience, and for many people, the Internet forms the hub around which that experience revolves. From getting customer service questions answered over Twitter to browsing new collections over Instagram, most 21st-century consumers want a customer experience that includes a robust and positive online experience.
3. First Impressions Aren’t In-Store
Because so many people are online, and because so many of those people do research about what local stores and restaurants they’re planning to patronize, it’s rare for anyone’s first impression of your business to take place in-store. Because of that reality, your online image needs to be polished, accurate, and inviting, or you stand to lose out on getting actual people into your actual store to make actual purchases. You really never do get a second chance to make a first impression, so embrace the world you live in: Get your online image as up to snuff as your in-store one.
4. Your Competitors Are Online
When someone is looking for the best place to buy women’s shoes in a particular part of town, they aren’t thumbing through the Yellow Pages. Instead, they’re performing a Google search within a particular zip code, and if your store’s online presence is lacking — or if your online image is out-of-date or clunky — they’ll head to one of your competitors whose online presence and image are great. Your competition is online, and if you want to keep up with those Joneses, you need to be online and present an image that makes people want to do business with you.
5. The ‘Mobile’ Shopper Demands It
Mobile device are slowly but surely supplanting desktops and laptops as the preferred way most people get online, and because mobile shoppers tend to be on the go when they’re getting online, your online image needs to be burnished to a high gleam in order to attract them as they head toward their next destination.
To accomplish this, you need to make sure your website is optimized for mobile so that it loads correctly and quickly when someone pulls it up on a smartphone or tablet. Secondly, make sure your site quickly and clearly conveys what it is you offer and what a customer can expect when he comes into you store. Finally, develop an app so that mobile users don’t have to load a browser every time they want to see what it is you’re up to.
Having a great online image is every bit as essential to doing business today as having a way to process credit cards. Don’t take the way your business appears online for granted. Get your image in line with your goals and values, and, even if you don’t sell online, your physical store will get plenty of real attention.