Competition? There May Be Opportunities in E-Commerce

Look around you. Do you have any local competitors in your business? How are they doing, if you can tell? Are any of them out of business because of the recession? The economy is not going to be good for small businesses for at least the next two years or more, largely because of the unemployment rate which is probably going to end up at around 9.5% this year and maybe 1 to 1 ½ points lower next year . And since joblessness is going to remain high for the next three to five years, people won't have as much money to spend, not to mention the rising savings rate which will keep some of the increased incomes from being spent as people regain a jobs , so more small businesses are going to be closing over the next two years. Some of these may be your competitors.

One place the economy is growing exponentially is e-commerce. The internet, and especially new cell phones such as the Apple iPhone, that have apps for almost anything it seems, are fast becoming the device of choice for people to look for business products and services; and I believe that because of this, there are going to be new opportunities for many small businesses to promote themselves. A recent article in the New York Times on the front page was an article about a cell phone app that will allow a shopper to stand in front of a store window when the store is closed, and if they see something they can't do without , point their phone at it an buy it. How about that for scary? Clicks-to-brick on steroids. That mobile phone app that can allow you to buy that $ 4,000 diamond ring without even going into the store is not pie-in-the-sky. Some large retailers are currently testing the technology. One name you might recognize is Wal-Mart.

Here is an example of a recent experience that I had (from a "fixed-base" computer). I was looking for a place that did auto glass tinting, so my automatic reaction was to Google it. The "Local business results" came up with several. The first was "no longer available." The second and third showed the Google push pin on the map, gave an address and phone number and nothing else. The next four down that first page were either Citysearch or Superpages, which basically gave no information. It wasn't until the fifth listing down that there was actually a specific business website with good information. So for curiosity I pulled out the 2009-2010 Yellow Pages – all 1658 pages of it. Finding auto window tinting was a real challenge. I found myself thinking "This is nuts. I grew up with this thing, but now it is a hassle to find a lot of things when it so easy on the internet."

There is a message there. The competitive landscape is changing all around us. There is an internet site called Yelp ( www.yelp.com ) that specializes in reviews of local businesses in almost any city from restaurants to religious organizations. The breadth of what people seem to want to review is astounding. Depending on what your business is, it could provide a fascinating read on what other people think of you, but especially, your competitors. It is ridiculously easy to have a good website for your business. As, or if, any competitors go out of business, people are going to be looking for somewhere else to buy what you sell. Not having a presence on the internet for people to find is a mistake. At least show up in the "Local business results" and have a decent site rather than just a name and address. It could generate business or at least enable someone to wave their phone around in the air and find you, which might lead to future business. A website is a most basic example of e-commerce, and it is cheap when compared to the potential returns. You may not feel that you have an e-commerce-friendly product or service. But you do have the internet and you do have a unique value proposition that it may be worth trying to raise the visibility of on the internet.

E-commerce – the future on steroids.


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