Brick to Click Failure, an Online Marketing Lesson

I‘m not a business owner, but have worked alongside CEOs, COOs, and General Managers over the past 6 years to learn the ins and outs of pureplay eCommerce, online with retail heritage, and multi-channel businesses. I have learned the tough lessons as well shared the victories with them. My eCommerce experience has had its ups and downs, along with the success and failures of business. I have been lucky enough to be hands-on with the operations, but also lucky enough to learn the hard lessons without impacting my bank account.  

Below is a typical situation of an online business with a retail heritage. This has happened to multiple businesses I have worked with in the past. They will go nameless; but real experience has shaped this advice.

The Short Introduction:

Congratulations, you have a very successful business. Your multi-thousand square foot office, toll-free number, warehouse, showroom, and local brand recognition are all very impressive. You have won the business game. Now you decide to go and conquer the Internet while you’re at it. It makes sense.

Many businesses simply do the same thing they did when they started their traditional business. They built it, and expect customers to come. So, they commission a web development company to build them a website. Then they load up the products, slap their 300 dpi logo in the top left corner and wait for the money to flow in. They will soon be rich and plan on telling their other business group buddies how easy it was.

It’s not Apples to Apples:

The Internet does not have busy roads to your front door, location doesn’t matter. Consumers don’t care where you are, as long as their experience is good and you get them their product in a timely fashion. Don’t charge tax and offer free shipping and you have yourself a happy customer, even if you’re in the middle of Wyoming.

The Internet is not influenced by your 20 closest business friends. Old school word of mouth is weak. So you impressed your traditional business friends with your website and they told their friends and family. Chances are that many of those friends of friends already have your offer fulfilled online by someone else. And if they don’t, they are still going to price-shop, offer-shop, find coupons, and find better deals somewhere other than your website. Internet friends are not loyal. You need to earn their business and then earn it again every time after that.

Your amazing warehouse and talented shipping guy do not give you a large advantage. It only gives you the advantage on small items that aren’t ordered by the case pack. If you sell equipment or large items like ovens or chairs, guess what, your competitor who just started his website last week is at an even playing field with you by simply drop shipping the merchandise. That means he gets the manufacturer to ship it for him; all without the overhead cost of a warehouse or a shipping crew.

Yellow Pages worked in the past for my brick business and now they offer this amazing online version of marketing! Yellow Pages does not offer the quality of online marketing that you need. Yellow Pages, ATT, Deluxe, and even Google AdWords Express do not get you what you need. They are taking advantage of traditional businesses trying to get into the online world. Ignore the cold-calls and search and find a reputable online marketing agency. An agency focused on eCommerce marketing will help you succeed far better than any directory-type company could every do.


Wait, don’t change everything:

Want to easily cut tens of thousands of dollars out of your marketing budget? Cut the old fashioned paper catalog! Why would you need a catalog if everything is digital? Well, because your mailing list isn’t going to switch to email overnight and email does not replace a physical catalog for many reasons. Stick with the catalog and see a big lift in traffic and sales with each mailing. You can scale back the size to save on production and mailing costs; but I have seen some clients take a big hit because of their decision to cut a catalog.

Save even more money by cutting back on customer service. Maybe that intern can answer some emails and your receptionist can answer phone calls a few hours a day. Don’t cut customer service. Online customers are needier than catalog and traditional customers. They expect you to be available all of the time. Or at least during business hours on the phone, and extended hours for chat and email. The eCommerce world moves fast, and customer service is needed to keep things moving. Whatever you do, don’t cut customer service. More than likely you will want to staff-up with more web-savvy CSRs than before. And your CSRs need to know the product and be the human-catalog in order to answer every question, because it could prevent a sale if it goes unanswered.

No brick and mortar equals no upkeep! Wait, not so fast slumlord. You need to keep your property, online or offline, up to date. Your website needs to be modern, functional and continuously tested and improved for optimal user experience and conversion rate. Just because you don’t have a building to pay for, does not mean regular web maintenance is not needed. Be sure to budget for website upkeep and occasional redesign, just as you would for building upkeep.


The Hard Truth:

Online business takes just as much work and dedication as a traditional business does. If you make the leap into eCommerce from traditional, you need to be as hungry as you were when you started out with your offline business. Passion is still needed. Guerrilla marketing and startup mentality is a must to succeed.

Starting your first business online is also challenging. The initial investment and operating costs are typically less. No building, no point of sale system, less capital. However, there are a lot operational aspects you won’t know that a traditional business owner will know. This is where good partnerships, mentorship and professional groups come into play. Use all resources available to harness the power of online and offline business methods. A good mix of knowledge and passion is needed to succeed. You should also plan on partnering with a technology company that offers web development and online marketing. You need the help to succeed.

My experience has driven the above advice. There are bits and pieces that you should digest, new or old business owner. I have seen each of the failures and victories first hand. There is a lot more to cover, but these are some important aspects of eCommerce to focus on if you want to succeed.


  • Rachel

    Great post here. 

  • Rachel

    Great post here. I came across a great quote in a post on Copyblogger that reinforces your opinion and sums up online marketing beautifully: 
    “It’s time for online business to grow up.”For a long time, we
    believed that “online was different,” and that we didn’t need to accept any of
    the normal rules of business. We’d put something on the web and Magic Internet
    Dust would come along and make up for our total absence of business knowledge.“Leap, and the net will appear,” was the mantra.

    sort of worked for awhile, but it doesn’t work now. If you don’t have a solid
    understanding of who your market is, how they’ll find you, and what problems
    you solve for them, it’s now “Leap, and the floor will appear.”