Guest Post: You wouldn’t open a shop in the middle of the desert!

You wouldn’t open a shop in the middle of the desert!
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There’s no denying that retailing has changed beyond all recognition over the last 20 years or so.  So much so that the ailing state of our high streets is now passionately debated in parliament.  One of the demons cited as being responsible for the decline in our towns and cities is the massive increase in online shopping.  One of the arguments used is that online retailing gives an unfair advantage over high street retailers, as unlike them, online retailers can operate out of large ‘out of town’  low rent industrial parks, saving themselves a fortune and making them more competitive than their high street cousins.
Whilst there is no denying the logic of the argument that rent and rates are lower than on the high street, using that argument is deflection from a series of other issues and it feels like it’s easier to blame someone rather than tackle the root cause.
There are a whole host of other factors to consider when making a balanced comparison between online and high street.
Putting the politics aside and focussing purely on the business nuts and bolts of it, I think the most important thing anyone thinking of starting any retail business up should be, would you open a shop in the middle of the desert?  Why this question in particular?  Well it’s simple, if you think it’s madness to build a shop in the middle of nowhere, then think again, because that’s exactly what anyone starting an e-commerce website does.
Your website, once created and live exists in a small corner of the internet, and will live there without seeing a single visitor, nothing but digital tumbleweed unless you do something about it.  Contrast this with a high street shop in your local town or village, simply putting a sign up and opening your doors and you can guarantee that you will get a certain amount of footfall without so much as lifting a finger.
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You’ve spent a large amount of money having a website designed, built and implemented. That really is only like the early settlers in America building and kitting out their waggons.  The biggest challenge, the trip out West is still to come, that’s the equivalent to getting your store noticed online.  Whatever you’re trying to sell, without promotional activity and lots of hard work shouting as loud as you can from as many places as you can, no-one will walk past your door.
Just as the nature of the high street is changing, online shopping does at a vastly faster pace, with lots of things completely outside the retailers control meaning the need to be adaptive and keep pace with the change is essential.  Now it’s not to say that online retailers have it harder than their high street counterparts, merely that there are a whole host of activities that are required to even gain a foothold online that mean that successfully retailing online is no easier than the high street.
I can’t count the number of times I’m either party to a conversation about or overhear people who talk about starting an e-commerce venture as if it’s easy and a guaranteed solution to make money.  Whether it’s a bolt on to your high street activities or a standalone opportunity, without a hell of a lot of hard work and dedication, some good fortune and great PR and marketing, an online venture is just as likely to fail as a high street store.