The Internet has been a boon for both businesses in general and the average person as a whole. As Steve Jobs said 20 years ago, the Internet has the ability to make the smallest business seem like the largest one, creating an even playing field for everyone. This is evidenced by the immense number of web sites from all over the world selling everything from sticky notes to cars.
It is just as evident that using the Internet as a means of generating sales and advertising for a business is not always the best approach. While it is true that a business can develop a website, it does not always mean that it should. Before investing time, money, and resources to a web development project a business should give a close look at the rewards and benefits a project has to offer.
Of all the reasons to choose from, advertising moves to the top of the list. A business can get their name out in front of billions of people, locally and internationally. But if the scope of your business is 90 percent local, say in the case of a grocery store, the return on investment is very small. The question to be answered is whether the money spent will result in a significant increase in sales. It is fine for someone in the area to use your web site to find your phone number or location, but the likelihood of that significantly adding to the bottom line is very small.
Beware of the “common sense” advice that you should have a web page because everyone else does. There is both a short term and long term cost to building and maintaining a web site, so unless the person giving the advice is willing to pick up the costs, consider their advice to be simply well-meaning.
Another issue to be addressed is whether your product can be sold on the Internet. Consider eBay, the Internet auction site. When the buyer has to pay for the shipping regardless of the size of the item, they often will bid lower since the money for the shipping comes out of the same pocket as the cost of the item. A $50 product that costs $40 to ship is not a serious contender for increased Internet sales. Likewise, a product that sells for $5 but has packing costs of $2 does not inspire big profits.
The type of industry your business is in also needs to be considered. Looking at some of the home improvement sites such as Lowes and Home Depot, it is clear there are certain items which will not be shipped. For your own business, consider the distribution channels for your product before investing in a web site. Large retail stores have set up distribution centers around the country to reduce shipping costs and increase customer convenience.
Deciding to create a web site is not a small decision because once you start your customers will always expect you to be on the Internet for them. Taking away that option later may cost you future sales with your existing customers. Advertising, sales, and customer convenience are all good reasons to have a web site. But like the product you sell, it is not for everyone.