Want to sell online? Here’s a brief history
So you’re thinking of setting up an online shop? We can’t blame you. The appeal of buying on the internet is huge, thanks to its price, range and, most importantly, ease. Selling on the information highway isn’t as simple though. Here’s a quick history lesson on retail to help you decide whether you should start selling your products and services online.
Way back when the corner store was king and everyone did their shopping on the high street, it was hard to imagine doing it any other way. That was until the birth of the mall in the 1950s, which brought together everyone’s favourite stores in one place. It meant you could buy everything you needed in one central location. For some though, this wasn’t central enough, and next you had the birth of the big-box store: one massive retailer with outlets that cover all of one’s shopping needs (think Game and Makro in a local setting). It’s clear – convenience is the name of the game here.
The birth of online shopping as we know it was also out of a need for added convenience. This clip from a BBC Two documentary interviews English entrepreneur Michael Aldrich about his 1979 invention of the videotex, a system which connected one’s TV to a real-time transaction processing computer via a telephone line.
Who knew that this system, initially used to help your gran buy groceries from her local supermarket, would become the mainstay that it is today?
Clearly the invention of the internet in 1990 changed everything, including the way we’d buy and sell things. Not long after you have the launch of eBay and Amazon in 1995, two prime examples of how one will sell things on the web: the first a marketplace where anyone can buy and sell, and the other is the internet’s first very own big-box store.
Moving things closer to home, it’s clear to see that South Africans love shopping and they love convenience, with close to 2000 malls in SA, putting it 8th highest in the world. We’ve always been a little behind global trends though, the resilient prevalence video stores here is case in point. Seriously though, who’s hiring DVDs still!?
Amazon has since become the biggest e-commerce company in the world and made its founder, Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world too. It’s clear then that the West has started to ditch brick and mortar in favour of online stores, but why aren’t we? Well it looks like we’re slowly headed that way with the growth of Takealot as the best evidence. SA’s leading online retailer acquired both Kalahari and Mr Delivery in recent years. OneDayOnly and Yuppiechef are two more examples of our growing hunger to shop online.
My advice for deciding to start selling online is take cues from history: often people think setting up their own online store is the way to go, but much like the corner stores of the past, these can often be overlooked for the web’s retail juggernauts. If you want your website’s store to stand out, you’ve got to market, and market it well. Whether it’s ads in print, TV or online, you need to make your store stand out. We’re proud to offer our clients the tools to sell online, but always stress how important marketing your store is, because unfortunately there’s no high street on the internet.
Scared of taking this route? Why not dip your toe in and start selling using existing platforms: bidorbuy, Gumtree and OLX? These are all marketplaces where you can sell almost anything locally. The key with all of these is finding your niche, because, much like having your own store, you need to make your offering stand out.
Consider these three final points when choosing whether to start your own store or sell through a third party’s:
- Research your competitors – it’s always good to know how others sell similar products or services to you.
- Work out your turnaround times – online shoppers love quick delivery, so calculate how much you can stock and how fast you can deliver it.
- Price your packaging and transport – competitive pricing is essential, so make it clear what the customers pays and ensure all your costs are covered.