Are websites a must-have for all retailers?

Discussion
Source: westsidemarket.org
Aug 13, 2021

A new survey finds that 23 percent of small retailers do not have a website.

Asked why, the top answers were:

  • Social media satisfies all online business needs, 33 percent; 
  • We’ve never needed one, 32 percent;
  • We’ve focused on our niche, 29 percent;
  • Most of our customers don’t go online, 29 percent; 
  • Don’t have a large enough staff, 26 percent;
  • Don’t have money to build one, 26 percent;
  • Don’t know how to create/run a website, 24 percent;
  • It’s a waste of time, 21 percent.

The survey from Digital.com, which provides reviews for website tools, was taken in early May and featured 1,250 small retailers (500 or fewer employees) across a range of channels.

A survey of 500 smaller businesses from last December from Top Design Firms, an online directory, found that 28 percent of respondents have no website. Limited resources were found to present challenges in building and maintaining websites. Almost half (46 percent) of those with websites have in-house employees doing web management and 32 percent use DIY website builders to create a basic website. Only about one-third (34 percent) partner with an agency.

The recent surveys did indicate possible progress relative to a 2019 survey of 529 small businesses from Visual Objects, a website design directory, that found 40 percent of small businesses chose not to invest in a website.

Of those without websites, 28 percent said a website is irrelevant to their company’s needs. Visual Objects said these companies tend to leverage their personal networks and traditional marketing strategies, such as email and PR, to generate business. Other reasons not to have a website included cost, cited by 23 percent, and being able to use social media for web presence, 13 percent.

The Visual Objects survey likewise found about half of those with websites (52 percent) keeping maintenance in-house. The top-three challenges were identified as low website traffic, cited by 19 percent; competition, 19 percent; and lack of time/knowledge for website maintenance, 15 percent.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are there legitimate reasons for smaller retailers to go without a website? What advice would you have about overcoming the common obstacles to both building and maintaining a website?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Today’s websites are like business cards, every business needs to have one."
"With more consumers shopping online now than ever before, websites can make or break brands."
"With 80 percent+ of people searching on the web for what they need to solve problems, any business that doesn't maintain a presence on the web is basically invisible."

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33 Comments on "Are websites a must-have for all retailers?"


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Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Not having a website today is like having a storefront where your windows are covered and your lights are off. I understand that not every retail business (including restaurants) has the desire or capacity to conduct e-commerce or fill orders online for food delivery services. But even something as simple as a Facebook page provides vital information to customers when they are looking for it.

To the tech troglodytes who think this is a waste of time: Would you consider a listing of your address, store hours and phone number to be worthwhile if people still used the phone book? Is this bare minimum of information any different, just because the nature of search has changed?

David Naumann
BrainTrust

For almost all retailers, even a small one-store operation, a website is a valuable investment for brand visibility and promotion on local community websites. Even if you don’t sell anything on the website, it is a good source for information about your store. With easy to use website templates on many web services platforms, it is very simple to get a website up quickly and there isn’t a lot of maintenance. The use of social media as an alternative is a fairly good excuse, but some consumers aren’t on social media platforms.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

You make a good point about social media, even though I mentioned Facebook in my comment. There is a nearby restaurant with a Facebook page but no website — and I’m not on Facebook, so I have no access to the menu or any other information.

Ben Ball
Guest

Maintaining a good website takes constant attention and updating. If a small retailer doesn’t have the resources to do it right they are better off not doing it at all. Bad websites frustrate consumers more than not finding one at all.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Every customer journey to a brand’s door starts on the web now. A website is no longer a “nice-to-have,” it’s essential. But e-commerce, which is harder to do, could come later. As a matter of fact, a website should be the first place you start, including e-commerce — THEN a store. Find out as much as possible before you go physical because, with the web, you can.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Even if it is a basic website – no ordering, no inventory, just a “here we are and here’s how go get ahold of us,” it’s a must. Websites have become the information operator from the days of old.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

For almost anything a consumer needs these days, a web search is the new Yellow Pages. There was a time when the Yellow Pages were the simple go-to for starting a shopping or discovery journey. Now your phone and search engine of choice start that journey. I’m sure there are small businesses that will do fine without a website. And they will stay small and shrink in size and number over time if they don’t migrate to the web in some manner.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Some kind of online presence is sensible for retailers of all shapes and sizes. In the age of social media, I guess this doesn’t necessarily have to be a traditional web page, but given the very low cost of putting something simple up there I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t do this. As for the website being transactional, most retailers will benefit from this and for some it is absolutely critical. But it is not an absolute requirement for success. Trader Joe’s. Primark. Two retailers with no transactional online presence. Both extremely successful. The nice thing about retail is there are often exceptions to general rules!

Christine Russo
BrainTrust

The most common reason a small business can’t or won’t do a website is because inventory tracking is too hard. Using a strong inventory management system, so that all of your information is corralled into one source of truth is a way to handle it.

If that’s still a “no go” then a small retailer should have a landing page. In my opinion, this is a must-have because it acts as a resource for the client to engage with and learn more about the retailer. It can be used to drive the client to the store or social media and it can be a place where the retailers tell their story and promote their values.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

There’s just no excuse not to have at least a brochure site. Cost is minimal and there’s no need for upkeep. Come on.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Every retailer needs a website. It doesn’t need to be a commerce site, it can just be informational but it is a requirement to communicate to your customers. There are plenty of services available from self help to an agency and everything in between. My company (www.cambridgeretailadvisors.com) has been working with the Boston Main Streets Foundation, the state of Massachusetts and Main Street America to offer low cost websites to restaurants and retailers. It has allowed these businesses to survive and thrive through this nightmare pandemic. We all need to pitch in to see a better tomorrow.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

If there weren’t “winners” and “laggards” in retail, most of the analysts I follow wouldn’t have a ton of stuff to write about. Every success story needs an example of how “not to do it,” and coming up with poor excuses to not have an online presence is a great one of those examples.

Clearly not having a website today puts a retailer squarely in the “laggard” category. They are deciding to intentionally hide themselves from, I’d estimate, 99.9 percent of their new business. We know that nearly every customer starts their research for products or stores to shop online.

Today it’s very simple and very inexpensive to have an online presence. Even a simple Facebook page with phone numbers and opening times would be a better investment for these businesses than, say, Yellow Pages or whatever medium they’ve decided to use.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

There is absolutely no reason for any retailer, regardless of size, not to have a website. If cost is an issue there are plenty of website builders like Wix that will let you create one for free.

Consumers use websites for more than just making a purchase. They are used for information gathering, checking store hours, checking class and event information, project sheets, etc. In our focus groups consumers have said they would rather read the answer to a question online than call the store and potentially be put on hold, transferred or given the wrong information. Today’s websites are like business cards, every business needs to have one.

David Spear
BrainTrust

I get the fact that a small company may not want to invest hard earned dollars into a website, but to drive long term growth, brand affinity, and differentiated messaging, a website is ESSENTIAL. And as newer technologies start to proliferate and become more pervasive with shoppers (AI powered search, voice, ML algorithms), no site = LOST SALES. For those companies who are sitting on the fence and can’t make up their mind? Do it!

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Not having a retailer website is like not being listed in the telephone book 10 years ago – it is very difficult to be found by new customers. Websites are very inexpensive to create with templates and are a minimal cost to host and maintain. A small business is putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage without a website. There is no excuse anymore not to have a website.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

“in-house employees doing web management”? What happens when one of these employees gets mad at management and writes comments that are very hurtful to the business? We’ve seen it! When management doesn’t care about what is going on, a lot of bad stuff can go on. Today a website serves as a welcome invitation to the retailer’s “house” – come in and browse. That cannot hurt. If it changes on a regular basis, supporting managements goals and challenges, how can that hurt? I believe you get more points having a website than blinding customers to your store experience and products.

Raj B. Shroff
BrainTrust

All businesses should have a website. It’s the first place people look for information about any entity. When a business doesn’t have one, it sends the wrong signals and casts doubt on its credibility.

My 11-year-old son can build a website. There are no hurdles in this day and age to building and maintaining a website.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Yes, being a web laggard is a legitimate choice for a dwindling percentage of small retailers. A small convenience store in a remote, rural town would likely rely on word-of-mouth for as long as possible.

Among the 40 percent of small businesses lacking a website in 2019, I wonder how many changed their mind during the pandemic – and how many folded.

For most web-resistant companies, I would say the investment in being found online with ease can more than cover the cost of a website. Choose user-friendly web templates to keep it simple. Most importantly, focus your content on your dream customers and how you’re better than your rivals at serving consumers’ needs.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Websites are a must-have for every business, not just for retailers. Social media is fine, but you don’t own the content or your followers, and you can be dropped at any time. Customers have an expectation of finding your business online – not having a website tells them you aren’t serious about what you do.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

There is a 100 percent need. A website is another storefront that people look at. Not having one is a loss of sales and these days, whether it’s through a Facebook page or an actual website, people have to be able to find you.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Well, no one prints or reads the Yellow Pages anymore so not having a website is about the same as not having a phone number.

Ian Leslie
BrainTrust

Similar to what others are saying, I don’t know why you wouldn’t have a website regardless of how small your store is. Even if it’s just to list your business hours and location. It frustrates me when a business’s top SERP result is its Facebook page. A Facebook page is not your website.

Chuck Ehredt
BrainTrust

With 80 percent+ of people searching on the web for what they need to solve problems, any business that doesn´t maintain a presence on the web is basically invisible. Furthermore, even regular customers want an asynchronous channel to communicate with the brand, so allowing customers an easy way to ask if the brand is open on Sunday or has a product in stock can be powerful. Of course any business that doesn´t have a website today will not be reading these comments.

Rich Duprey
Guest

Agreed, they’re vital regardless of size. And when you do have one, a contact point is essential. There is nothing more infuriating than a business that offers no way to interact with it.

It’s probably more common with the tech giants that don’t feel they need to be responsive to their users, but I’ve come across a few retailers too who have at the very least buried their contact info to make it difficult to respond.

But yes, with so many people using the internet as their first form of interaction with a company, any retailer that doesn’t have a website probably won’t be in business very long anyway.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

There are no “legitimate reasons for smaller retailers to go without a website.” Actually, there are no legitimate reasons for any business to go without a website. Might as well not have a phone number, either.

There are plenty of options to get a free or low-cost website. ‘Nuf said!

RandyDandy
Guest
9 months 8 days ago
Broad statements like “every business needs a website” are misleading. Yes, there needs to be at least one online way for someone—not aware of your precise location, hours, general merchandise mix, and means to (possibly) procure items from you, et al—to access that information about your establishment. And Google, for all its shortcomings, manages that. However expecting a website — which in this case seems to imply all the “bells and whistles” — is simply too much for a great many small (and small staffed) operations to undertake. Besides, to take the few (daily) transactions one may have in person, and suddenly make them about online ordering, answering questions, plus timing, too? Well, you’ve added another level of stress to those who are running things. It all comes down to what a business can properly manage. Versus what a website, other than a (please make it nicely done) landing page, can really add to your bottom line. Also bear in mind that what looks old in a store, through lack of merchandise turnaround and new… Read more »
Ben Ball
Guest

A lot of the comments here feature “there’s no excuse … it’s not that hard to have a banner site … it doesn’t cost much … you don’t have to maintain it.” If you make your presence known on social media I will find you (eventually — maybe) in a Google search. But having a website because “that’s how consumers find you these days” is naive at best. Most people never get past the paid search ads that return when you Google a subject — not to mention the other 25 pages of responses you would have to make your way through. If you’re not on page one in a search you don’t exist.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Shikha Jain
BrainTrust

With more consumers shopping online now than ever before, websites can make or break brands. Relegating yourself to foot traffic, word of mouth and even social media means you neglect entire segments of consumers who might otherwise discover your business. While the initial investment in creating an effective website can be daunting, it will pay off in spades for the simple reason that that is where consumers are increasingly taking their money. Consumer spend has shifted dramatically toward e-commerce as a result of the pandemic and is not likely to backtrack on this trend. Direct-to-consumer channels — chiefly websites — will not only boost financial metrics like revenue and profit, but will also provide invaluable opportunities for brands to fully own the consumer experience and consequently build brand loyalty and trust, all of which contribute to the long-term success and growth of the business.

RandyDandy
Guest
9 months 8 days ago
If the question is whether single retail stores need websites. Yes, if it’s a matter of making sure you have someplace online (that one can easily find) that outlines the basics of your business. But how extensive an online presence goes from there has to be about: 1) the type of business; 2) the ability to maintain a consistent online presence; contrasted with 3) where exactly you plan to “take” your business. A dry cleaner hardly needs more than a page-listing of all their essential business practices and information. A lone hardware store? Try making it about more than just the usual items you stock (and not about categorizing every nail and screw—lest you drive every worker crazy, for VERY few positive results). A nifty gift shop can showcase more of their identity, but to make it about selling online items that can be gotten elsewhere at better costs (and easier returns) is a road fraught with peril. Now, an antique store should have already gotten on the secondary online market years ago—or they are… Read more »
Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

There are legitimate reasons why smaller retailers might not want or need a website. An exclusive customer base. Zero publicity-driven business. Corporate identity security. Word-of-mouth only. Referral only business. Home business with privacy needs. The difficulty of setting up a simple website and having it hosted on the internet has dramatically dropped. A web presence even with maintenance can be relatively low cost with a few static pages describing a business and displaying a contact email. It is the equivalent of hanging out your shingle for a physical business. The business owner needs to determine their need for internet presence and how much of one they want, and whether the internet will be a part of their business.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Nearly every customer journey today is impacted by a retailer’s digital footprint. Not having a website is equivalent to handing over your customers to your digital competitors without even trying to retain them. It’s basic table stakes for any retailer. That doesn’t mean you need full ecommerce on that website if it doesn’t make sense for your business (there are many large off-price apparel retailers that still have no ecommerce), but you do at minimum need to show your stores, and describe who you are, who you serve, and tell your story about why consumers should shop with you.

The social media excuse is an interesting one, but I see that as a means for these retailers to grow and maintain a customer relationship more so than establishing a new one. Your website will do that and those customers will soon migrate to your social presence. Without that jumping-off point, you’re just giving up those customers!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

How small? Does a barber, or the corner grocery need one? I would argue they need a web PRESENCE — even if it’s just a facebook page or a listing on some site (yelp, etc) — but I can buy the argument they don’t need an actual site.

Beyond that, it would seem to be sort of silly … like not having a phone or accepting only barter as payment.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Every retail business should have a website and they aren’t that hard to create. The problem is deciding what role the website plays for the outlet and choosing to invest only what it’s worth.

Where I LOVE this question is that I encounter many small retailers who believe they have to do everything on their website that Home Depot or Macy’s do on theirs. That is NOT true. There is quite often not the return in sales needed to integrate a live inventory connection in order to accurately put a product catalog on the website.

These retailers need to ask: What are the primary reasons people come to my website? What is the right amount of effort to put in to satisfy them without breaking the bank?

I do NOT like the idea of only relying on social. Through social media only a specific psychological type of possible customer is satisfied. Retailers are smart to offer opportunities for all psychologies of customers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Today’s websites are like business cards, every business needs to have one."
"With more consumers shopping online now than ever before, websites can make or break brands."
"With 80 percent+ of people searching on the web for what they need to solve problems, any business that doesn't maintain a presence on the web is basically invisible."

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