By Melissa J. Luther
Does your business have a Web site? If you are like many small business owners, you may feel that the time and expense involved is not worth it. After all, your customers come from down the street. They see your business in their neighborhood, and if they need what you offer, they will come in. That was true once, but the Internet’s reach has changed people’s shopping behavior drastically in just a few years.
Even Local Shoppers Use the Internet
Think, for a minute, about your own neighborhood. Do you know where you would go for a photographer or a plumber or a new restaurant you haven’t tried? Even if you know where the nearest one is, wouldn’t you want to know which one is best? Where would you go for that information?
If you are like most consumers today, you would turn to the Internet. The most recent results from a continuous consumer tracking study, User View Wave VII, run by BIA/Kelsey and ConStat, shows that fully 97 percent of consumers go online to find local products. The overwhelming majority of shoppers (90 percent) use a search engine. Some also use comparison shopping sites (42 percent) or Internet Yellow Pages (48 percent).
Consumer shopping behavior has been shifting toward online media for years, starting mostly with researching a specific product or purchasing items not easily available locally. Today, as the above research shows, the Internet has taken the place of the Yellow Pages book as the primary source for local products and services.
This holds true even if your target audience is the older segment of our population. As far back as 2005, a column in Entrepreneur ended with a story in which the author asked a group of people, mostly 55 and over, how many of them had used the Internet to research a product in the previous week. The answer was about 95 percent.
What does this mean for the small local business? It means your potential customers expect to find you online, and if they can’t, then you don’t exist for them.
Advantages to Having an Internet Presence
- Customers can find you: You need to be where your customers are, and the evidence shows that your customers are online.
- Customers can learn more about you, 24/7: Today’s busy consumers aren’t necessarily researching you during your business hours. Even when they are, they may not want to talk to you. You need, at the very least, a Web site where potential customers can learn more about you and how you can help them.
- You can lower your advertising costs: If your customers are online, why are you buying expensive print ads? People pay attention to ads only when they are looking for what the ad is selling, but print ads run on a schedule. A Web site and online ads are inexpensive and available for consumers to find when they are ready to pay attention.
No matter how small or how local your business, if you don’t have an Internet presence, you need to begin building one today.
About the author
Melissa J. Luther, owner and founder of LookSee Information Solutions, LLC, helps small businesses create and maintain a strong Internet presence. She takes a multi-channel approach, with a well-optimized Web site as the center of an Internet presence that includes content creation, PPC advertising, linking and social media as appropriate.