Retail Moves from Bricks to Clicks and Back Again

Laurel Tielis

SAN FRANCISCO–Arkadi Kuhlmann, President and CEO of ING Direct, was in Union Square last week to launch the online bank’s new 17,000 square foot cafe, its eighth brick and mortar outlet.

While you can”t make a deposit or a withdrawal, you can grab a cup of Peet’s coffee, take advantage of the Wi-Fi, and enjoy face time with others.

Not only that, the bottom level of the three-story space is set up so that small business owners and non-profits can host meetings, free of charge, for as many as 40 or 50 people.

Why move from clicks to bricks? Isn’t business going in the opposite direction? As Kuhlmann put it, “People feel very disconnected; there’s a need for connection.” It makes sense, and it works out in dollars. ING has found that deposits have increased by about 10 percent in the cities where they have a physical presence.

Understanding the consumer is the secret of doing business today. People want what they want, where they want it, when they want it. The easier you make it for them, the more they’ll do business with you. If your goal is a successful business you need to be available instore, online, and via mobile.

Arkadi Kuhlmann, ING Direct with blogger Laurel Tielis

This is a good lesson for independent retailers, who have been resistant to selling on the Internet. And to be fair, getting started has been expensive and time-consuming.

Luckily though, as it’s become more important to have a website, it’s also become cheaper and easier to acquire one. In addition to eBay and Etsy, which have been around for a long time, but are clearly not right for all retailers, there now are a wealth of inexpensive ways for small business owners to sell online.

If you want to easily and inexpensively create a storefront with the look and feel of your four-walled store check out Goodsie.com, Shopify.com, Storenvy.com, and Weebly.com. If you’re interested in joining with other small business owners in your area, there are sites like UrbanSwipe.com in Albuquerque, and Shoppista, com, which I wrote about last year, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Got merchandise you’re ready to move at a discount? Sales site LittleIndependent.com can help. If you’re in the bridal business, take a peek at NearbyRegistry.com, scheduled to open this year.

If you started with bricks, it’s time and past time to move to clicks; and as ING Direct has shown, clicks profit when they connect in person. Success today means taking advantage of every possible place and manner to sell your products and services.

If you want more ideas about bringing in business, I can help. I’ve been a retail reporter at Women’s Wear Daily and Home Furnishings News, a columnist at the Miami Herald and a correspondent at People magazine.

I’ve also handled the marketing and public relations at major corporations and small businesses. Need a speaker or a consultant? Connect with me at LinkedIn, or follow me on Twitter @laureltielis.

You can also get in touch at Ask Laurel (one word) at laureltielis.com. For easy and effective ways to bring in more business, read my book Ka-Ching! How to Ring Up More Sales..

Copyright © 2012 Laurel Tielis

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