'Right Now' Beats 'Right Next Door': How to Win at Ecommerce

Sure, shaking hands with every customer is charming in an "Andy Griffith" sort of way. But limiting yourself by excluding ecommerce could quash your business.

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By Mike Kalis


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There's something undeniably charming -- and perhaps a bit nostalgic -- about being a local business that conducts only face-to-face commerce. But in this tech-driven day and age, you're selling your customers short by limiting the scope of your services to an in-person setting.

Related: Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Must Innovate to Flourish in a Digital World

Sure, you might be able to say you've personally met and shaken the hand of each and every one of your clients, but as your business expands, a time will come when those one-on-one interactions no longer make sense.

In fact, they'll only be stunting your growth and overall success.

Dollar Shave Club wasn't bought for a cool $1 billion because Michael Dubin, its founder, did such a great job meeting with consumers and getting his products into big-box retailers. Instead, the company reached the stratosphere because it realized that modern customers care more about convenience and quality than visiting a store or office in person.

Indeed, driving even just five minutes to a local drugstore has become the less desirable option. So Dollar Shave Club uses technology to cut out the middle man and sell directly to the doors of millions of people -- all while keeping its prices lower than the competition's.

Remove the in-person burden.

Ecommerce companies with amazing processes are actually able to provide their huge client bases with better service than most brick-and-mortars can. Why chain yourself to a storefront when there's a whole big world out there you could be serving in a much more efficient and scalable fashion?

Plenty of industries can benefit from ditching their reliance on in-person commerce. Take real estate, the industry I work in. Buying or renting a home is a major investment, and for consumers, meeting face-to-face with realtors has always been the norm. But under the requirements of this model, real estate agents end up spending all their time rushing around town, trying to cram as many appointments as possible into each workday.

And that just isn't a scalable business model. On on top of that, it's not what modern consumers want anymore.

Related: 4 Simple Tips for Finding Incredible Real Estate Deals

After noticing this trend, my company, Marketplace Homes, created an app that allows tenants to videochat with realtors on demand regardless of the latter individuals' location; it also enables investors to purchase homes in any state while working with one centralized company.

Now, each of our agents is able to show at least 15 to 20 homes each workday; and even at that rate, we're still providing a better service than the competition. To top it off, this digital model has made it possible for us to easily scale our business to the national stage.

While approaches will vary by industry, here are a few easy ways online businesses can beat out the local competition:

1. Humanize the experience.

Going digital doesn't mean you can't be human. Consumers should still feel as though they're dealing with real-life people who care about their desires -- not robots or outsourced customer service professionals.

With my company's app, for example, our vidchat feature makes it clear that you're working with a human being you might find down the block. We also send realtor biographies to every client we work with, ensuring that that person feels a personal connection to the real estate professional walking them through their major life decision.

If it simply isn't possible for you to provide real-life human interaction, use tech to your advantage. Amazon has proven that providing personalized recommendations to online consumers results in a big boost to sales. In fact, one study found that product recommendations increased conversion rates by more than 900 percent.

2. Quality is key.

Marketing yourself as the cheapest option out there is your one-way ticket to looking like an impersonal, low-quality big-box retailer. The vast majority of consumers say they're happy to pay extra for goods and services when they know they're getting higher quality than what's offered by the Walmarts of the world. So make quality your selling point.

Casper -- the Dollar Shave Club of mattresses -- followed this strategy when it launched its new line of dog beds. To justify the beds' high price tag, the company explained to consumers that it had spent two years studying canine sleep patterns, and consulting dog psychologists, to arrive at the best possible product.

3. Use tech to club the brick-and-mortars.

For consumers, the charm of a local face-to-face business quickly wears off when lines grow long, processes become cumbersome and deadlines pass without a word. Once these things happen, brick and mortar turns to rust and steel, and customers feel like hitting local companies where it hurts.

Instead, be an ecommerce company featuring the kind of amazing technology that responds to the common hardships consumers face. This is exactly what businesses like Stamps.com and Rocket Mortgage are doing. They see that today's shoppers no longer want to waste their lunch break at the post office or drown in confusing paperwork when applying for mortgages. So, they're swooping in with tech-driven options that allow people to easily accomplish these tasks wherever and whenever they want.

Of course a small demographic of people will always prefer to stand in line at the local grocery store every day. That's their way of getting out of the house and socializing.

However, a larger demographic -- busy working people -- is sick and tired of conducting business the old-fashioned way. This is a ripe market whose participants eagerly await your online business to come along and solve their pain points in the most humanized way possible.

Related: 5 Hacks to Know Before Launching a Human-Centric Tech Startup

Are you starting that process today?

Mike Kalis

CEO of Marketplace Homes

Mike Kalis is the CEO of Marketplace Homes and one of Crain’s Detroit Business’s “Top 20 in Their 20s.” 

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