March 30, 2018

By Sarah Sternau For Brooklyn Bicycle Co.

Ever wonder how you can participate in online sales as a brick and mortar shop? We asked online merchandising expert, Sarah Sternau to share her insights. Check out her recommendations for you below:

If the thought of expanding to online sales feels as daunting to you as opening a second business, you’re not alone. Many of today’s independent bike dealers feel like they’re working harder for less at the same time they’re facing steep competition both online and off. To make things more complicated, many IBDs feel they got into this business because they love bikes, not because they’re keen to sell online.  

But as intimidating as online sales might seem, they also hold huge potential for bike dealers willing to take the leap. Here are just some of the ways that branching out online can have an outsized impact on your brick-and-mortar business—plus how bike dealers can successfully get involved in online sales (without starting a second business). 

How the Right Kind of Online Presence Can Enhance Your Reputation

An online presence can help grow your brick-and-mortar business—provided you do it right. Over 85 percent of customers use the Internet to find local businesses and basic business information such as a store’s address, phone number, and hours. This means that having a website gets you found, which can expand your pool of potential customers.

The right website can also make you more credible and paint a picture of your business that can either attract or repel customers. A basic website, or no website at all, at best makes a customer wonder what they’ll find on arrival, and at worst makes them expect limited or out-of-date inventory. It misses a great opportunity to tell your story and to compete for customers while they’re still deciding what to buy and from whom. A great website, in contrast, can start selling for you before customers even walk in your doors.

How Online Sales Can Enhance Your Marketing Efforts

The benefits of maintaining your own e-commerce site or selling across other channels extend beyond simply creating a calling card for your brick-and-mortar business. Running a digital business means you can collect a variety of real-time data points to help you optimize your business, even in your physical store.

For example, when you use add-ons such as Google Analytics on your website, you can see what customers are searching for and what keywords lead them to click or buy. Most marketplaces also have built-in software that allows you to see things such as products buyers commonly purchase at the same time or average pricing for particular products. This data can be invaluable for your marketing efforts.

Creating a digital presence also provides an opportunity to expand your advertising reach and tactics. As you build digital buyer lists or newsletter subscription lists, you grow your ability to market new arrivals, limited-time in-store sales, and community events to nearby customers and online equivalents to buyers further afield. 

How Online Sales Can Minimize Risky Inventory Choices

In your own store, you may be stocking inventory and then crossing your fingers that you’ll avoid “unusuals” such as unpredictable sales trends or someone coming into the store for an oddly sized item. Selling some of these products online instead can help shield you from losses due to unusuals. 

Many bike, gear, and accessory brands allow IBDs to sell products on their own websites or online marketplaces if they also have a physical store. This gives extra cushion in your stocking choices by broadening your customer base. Those size 43 women’s SIDI shoes you considered ordering, but then held off because you were concerned about whether a size 43 customer would come through your doors? If they don’t sell in store, you can show them to millions of additional potential customers online, mitigating some of the margin risk of bringing on nonstandard inventory.

How Online Sales Can Enhance Your Service Offerings

Selling online (or partnering with businesses that sell online) can expand your service offerings in a number of ways.

For example, if you don’t already accept trade-ins that allow customers to “sell to buy,” there are several methods of doing so that are enabled by online sales. One of the easiest is to take the bikes in and resell them yourself. Bicycle Blue Book and platforms like eBay.com allow you to see current prices for these bikes. You can then sell the bikes on eBay or partner with Bicycle Blue Book or the Pro’s Closet to resell them.

Then there are opportunities such as the ones offered by Velofix and Beeline Bikes, which enable IBDs to become mobile-service franchisees or partner with mobile services to expand their reach. Additionally, bike brands are increasingly creating online sales models in which bikes are shipped to a store or assembled for the customer through a mobile bike service. This is a space to watch as mobile-service options continue to evolve.

Why Setting Up a Website is Easier than You Think

Now that you understand why online sales can be so beneficial to your business’ bottom line, having a great website probably sounds compelling—and maybe overwhelming. Many independent bike dealers have told us they aren’t great with computers, and they worry that setting up a website will require an entirely different set of tools than they use to run their end-to-end business.

Here’s the good news: Off-the-shelf products such as Shopify and BigCommerce provide services that help you manage your full business by supporting functions from inventory management to point of sale (POS) and offering easy tools to manage omnichannel sales. These “one-stop shopping” services allow you to create one listing for your item and then load it to your own website, online marketplaces (such as eBay or Amazon), or even social channels. Some services even include mobile POS tools that allow you to process transactions away from your shop, so you can take sales anywhere you get a phone signal. When you put the right tools to work for you, coordinating online sales is remarkably easy.

When you’re working more than full-time to run a bike shop, it can be hard to find time to think about innovations that will keep your business relevant and competitive in the future. But online channels will impact your business whether you’re participating or not. By taking the plunge and diving into online sales, you can evolve your business to meet your customers where they are evolving to shop.

Sarah Sternau, the Director of Category Management at Ebay, has a17-year track record in omni-channel, consumer-focused marketing and online merchandising, building teams and delivering strong business results in large e-commerce and marketplaces companies (Amazon, eBay) as well as in startups. Additional in-depth experience in business development, business strategy and planning, product management, merchandising strategy, and general management. 


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