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Should I Start My Shop Online or on the High Street?

I was prompted to write about this dilemma following a radio phone-in I heard the other day concerning the fact that HMV are selling Waterstones. HMV are a company very much in trouble and their problems are symptomatic of something affecting many high street retailers, that is competition from the Internet.

I think in HMV's case it is worse than average as not only is music bought more often on the Internet than in a retail shop, it is even more frequently downloaded for free. The radio phone-in continued and most people were supporting the very depressing reality that it was very hard for retailers to survive on the high street.

Positive Thinking

However, one caller came on with a much more upbeat attitude and set my brain off into all sorts of directions thinking about the problems faced by retail businesses in the high street. She was the owner of an independent book shop and her business was running very successfully. In fact, they were in the process of expansion. It was so cheering to hear not only of a business doing well in these days of economic difficulty but also to hear of a high street retail business doing well in these days of the Internet.

How they arrived at this position is not only interesting but also in my view, points to the answer to the question posed in this article. Their business was originally started as an Internet only operation. Like so many of us, they wanted to set up an online business as this seemed to be the way to go, especially for a book shop. In the early days their growth was both strong and steady. So much so that they had to look for larger premises. They found a small unit with warehousing space and moved in there. This is when there was an interesting development.

A surprising result

Their new address was shown on the website and visitors started turning up on their doorstep. This happened more and more often. So much so, they decided to move to a proper retail unit and promote it.

It bacame a success because people loved visiting their shop which was inviting and staffed by knowledgeable and helpful people.

Don't choose - do both!

I think that some people like to buy online whilst others prefer to go to a real shop and buy something they can see. This happens in any business. So the answer to the question is both. If you are setting up an online business, combine it with a physical retail business if your budget allows. If you are setting up a retail shop, make sure you have an ecommerce website to support it.

If you think about it, high street giants who are doing well at the moment also have great websites such as John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and Currys. But shops such as HMV, whose online presence was either not good enough or came along too late, are struggling. This applies to small retail businesses too.

So the answer is that if you budget allows it, start your shop online AND on the high street.

Mon 23 May 2011 14:38:00

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