Eden Garden Center & Florist
I have a 75+-year-old mother-in-law who took a computer class at her local junior college. She now whizzes around in her golf cart assisting her friends and neighbors with her computer-savvy ways. Go exploring with your sons, daughters and grandchildren. Or go to your public library. They can all be a great source of help.
Fast Internet access
Broadband used to be outrageously expensive, but competition now comes from every angle. Use your negotiating powers to find the best deal. Again, ask your computer-wise relatives or friends for help.
Where is the best fit for your business?
The idea of 24/7 has many advantages. When you think of products you need, you can order them quickly and efficiently. No need to wait for your local rep or a jammed fax machine; the Internet is ready and waiting for you. Suppliers have become aware of the retailer’s needs and have product in stock and ready to ship, which helps retailers maintain inventory without the overhead of large inventory backup. Quick delivery services can have products delivered from one side of the country to the other, usually in five days—seven at most. Some suppliers also have drop ship programs available for oversized items that don’t fit in a stock room. Take advantage of this with a sample on display and a fresh one shipped directly to your customer, direct from the supplier. Once a day, twice a day or more, visit your favorite websites to see what’s there and what’s new.
Using search engines
Ten years ago, who would have guessed that “Google it” would become a part of our language, and the science of search engines would become a college course. To search, try some common words or phrases that you use and know, and see how many responses appear. Are the results the ones that you expected? Or did you learn something new? There are may search engines, including Google, Yahoo, AltaVista and Ask.
Buy first from suppliers you know
Build your comfort level with the ease and security of online buying by making your first purchases from suppliers with whom you have an existing relationship. This is one way to build your confidence level for online buying. If you select from suppliers you already know, you are not both buying new products and trying a new buying method on your first try. Watch all the steps of the transaction and see how your order progresses through the process. Most online buying tracks the order, the shipment and the receipt of your order.
Best buys and email offers
Once you have established yourself with an online supplier, list the supplier in your address book or mailbox. This will enable you to receive informative and promotional emails on offers, specials and new products without having the information refused or denied to you as if it is spam.
Marketing hints & advice
Many online businesses offer weekly hints on new business ideas, or market advice that can be advantageous to your business. Many sites add new products and suppliers on a weekly basis, and update the information on their sites to stay ahead of the competition. Often this advice is free, so take advantage of the tips; they might be just what you need to create a new trend in your area. Take advantage of every opportunity to bring something new into your business. The Internet has made this possible and even better, you do not have to leave your office to get the information.
Discover exciting new lines
There was a day when new trends and lines could only be discovered by traveling to tradeshows, or waiting for your rep to call with the latest and greatest. Now, thanks to the Internet, you can beat your competition and maybe even be the first in your area with the hottest trend. Suppliers are attuned to this and through their websites are bringing retailers the latest and greatest, quicker and faster. Many suppliers send out email announcements with new introductions that help you stay on top of trends.
Expand your marketing and merchandising team
The best wholesale sites bring you unique gift products from many suppliers. Many are staffed by people who have been retailers and have worked the long hours, weekends, nights and holidays, so they understand what an independent retailer goes through.
Online “buddies” network
Everyone needs buddies. You likely have good friends in the gift business. Now you can stay connected and informed with a group that you can rely on. I have several contacts with whom I stay in touch so that I can share and sometimes verify the accuracy of information. Such a group of confidantes may even become an integral part of your business, as an advisory board. There may be an author of an article whom you might email to show your interest, or to ask questions.
Finally, visit your favorite websites at least once or twice a day to see what’s new. Now that my business life is online, I find that some of my old habits die hard. I used to walk the store before it opened, visiting departments, seeing what was new and making sure the store was ready to open with everything up to standard and in place. Then, I’d do it again in the evening. Today I do the same, only online. This routine is different. I am on the wholesale side now and my showroom sits on my desk. I can visit as often as I like, from my desk. My favorites are seen at least once a day any time, 24/7. And my walking is now with my husband around the neighborhood after dinner. You too might find that the Internet gives you time for a personal life. How about that!
Pros and Cons
While we discuss the how-tos of online shopping, it is important to point out the advantages and disadvantages of buying your inventory online. While advantages such as 24-7 access are obvious, others, such as being able to access the latest products all of the time (instead of waiting for a tradeshow or catalog), are less so. Below, two independent gift retailers discuss their experiences with online product buying.
Case Study 1
Debra Grosser owns Eden Garden Center & Florist in WaKeeney, KS, a store that stocks fresh flowers and other gifts. When she started her business a little more than a year ago, she decided she’d “open up the world” to her customers, and decided to shop online for most of the products she stocks in her store.
Grosser lists these advantages to Internet buying:
- Being able to find items that “are not currently available in this town of 2,100 people.”
- Being able to find “the best prices for everything I sell.”
- Streamlined processes. “I don’t have the time to chat during transactions. I usually get an immediate copy of what I have purchased, a confirmation of the price, a confirmation when it ships, and then often a follow-up email making sure I was satisfied with the products once I received them.”
- Saving time. “I don’t have the time to attend tradeshows.”
Grosser lists these disadvantages:
- Not being able to see the item before buying. “I have, however, been satisfied with 98 percent of my purchases, so that is not usually a problem. Also, I do business mostly with companies that guarantee my satisfaction, so I feel secure in my purchasing power.”
Case Study 2
Simone Amerio runs an online store, Annabella Boutique, from her home in Arlington Heights, IL. Amerio sells many custom gift baskets, so shopping online for just the right product has been a blessing for her.
Amerio lists these advantages to buying online:
- 24-7 availability. “I am a mother of two little children and needed a flexible way to shop.”
- Staying on top of trends. “Shopping online gives me the whole picture: price points, research, trends.”
- Homework help. “I do attend the occasional tradeshow in Chicago and if I see any interesting products at the show, I research them online with other similar products.”
Amerio lists these disadvantages:
- Not being able to see before buying. “That doesn’t bother me that much, though. Sometimes I will check out the products at other stores to see what it looks like. If you deal with recognized brands, you don’t have to worry that much about it.”