Pandemic pushed small businesses online. But brick-and-mortar is back. – USA TODAY

You may have caught the news recently that Peloton has begun selling its stuff on Amazon.
Turns out that having multiple “touchpoints” for consumers has become all the rage.
Amazon itself of course no longer sells only online, what with its acquisition of Whole Foods and its Amazon retail bookstores. Even Casper beds, famously an online-only phenomenon, is no longer only online and can be found in furniture stores these days. And the beat goes on.
The question for a small business is, does this make sense for you too?
And the answer is yes. Undoubtedly, yes. Assuredly, yes.
This is so for many reasons, and the first is, the more varied the ways someone can find your business, the more customers you can catch. Some people, especially in this almost-post-pandemic world, are committed online shoppers. Bully for them.
Others still like the tactile experience of in-person shopping. Great! That’s why you should consider offering both options to your tribe.
Recently, I was coaching some MBA students. Their big idea? Creating a more compelling way for businesses to offer free in-store demonstrations.
“What problem does that solve,” I asked?
“It gets people back into stores!” they replied.
Touché.
So let’s look at why having both online and offline offerings is suddenly all the rage.
One of the good things about the recent economic turmoil is that the price of rent for many offices and retail shops is much lower. Communities need in-person businesses and as such, you can get in very affordably right now.
We hear a lot about the so-called “death of retail.” My take is that there is of course some truth there, if exaggerated. Yes, big box stores like Sears and J. Crew are in deep trouble, but, that said, the small businesses that survived the shutdown are often thriving now.
Consider the bookstore. If ever there was a type of business that seemed destined for the scrapheap of history, it was the physical bookstore. Such an antiquated, cute notion – wandering and browsing through a shop with a limited number of titles and retail prices. And yet, and even through a pandemic, the venerable bookstore remained, well, venerable.
So that’s the good news. People still like going into stores, starting one is more affordable than ever, and if the store is well run and competitive on price, it can thrive.
The downside of this option is of course that despite these changes, labor, rent, insurance and so on are overhead costs that physical stores have that their online equivalents do not.
Despite all of the above, we all also know that the biggest trend in shopping since, say, March of 2020, is e-commerce. Amazon isn’t Amazon for nothing, and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, topped a trillion dollars in valuation because of all of those little ads pointing people to online stores.
So the pros are pretty obvious: People love to shop online and are only doing more of it. The cost of entry is still significantly lower than getting into a physical, retail store. And, for example, with something called “drop shipping,” you do not even have to carry inventory to stock your online shelves.
But, why not be like Amazon and Peloton and other big sellers and double your chances of success? The best small businesses, the ones that learned how to thrive during the pandemic, were the ones who saw it as an opportunity to expand, not a reason to shrink. Little retail shops became big online players. Now, post-pandemic, they are both.
That’s the ticket. Go for both. That’s where the future is today

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