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Growing sales trend buoys online retailers, but poses competition for traditional outlets

The warning has been out there for more than a decade: Business owners must realize their competition consists of more than what they can see looking up and down the streets of their towns.

The Internet offers shoppers the means to browse products and services from around the globe. And the trend of increasing Internet sales shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, the holiday shopping season could be merry and bright for online retailers, according to the results of a survey conducted by Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation. Fully 64 percent of retailers responding to the survey expect their online sales to grow 15 percent or more this holiday season compared to last year. That’s up from the 46 percent of retailers who had similar expectations last year.

The Internet offers the convenience of shopping from the comfort of homes and offices while saving on time and gas. Shoppers sometimes benefit from no-cost shipping.

“Even though online retailers are expecting strong holiday sales, they’re not planning to abandon some of the web’s most alluring incentives, including free shipping,” states a story on the Shop.org website.

Cabela’s, which opened an outlet at the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction earlier this year, offers an example of a company that offers free shipping for Internet orders.

Of course, any business can offer online sales as well as a bricks-and-mortar operation that displays products. And some owners of bricks-and-mortar businesses believe any panic over Internet competition is overblown.

“I’m amazed that they sell as much as they do (online),” says Gregg Palmer, owner of Brown’s Shoe Fit Company in Grand Junction and other Western Colorado cities.

Many products, including the shoes Palmer sells, lend themselves to a hands-on experience prior to purchase. Then there’s the direct customer service an on-site salesman offers. That’s not to mention what happens after a sale. “If it breaks, there’s nobody to talk to,” Palmer said of online sales. “I want to talk to somebody.”

Tony Gagliardi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Colorado and Wyoming, puts it this way: “With Internet shopping, you can’t touch it.”

Many companies using the Internet to sell wares are expanding their electronic marketing efforts, including social media.

“The majority of retailers say they have invested in the company’s Facebook page in advance of the holidays,” states the Shop.org report. “Additionally, more than half said they’ve invested in cross-selling on product pages, site search and customer ratings and reviews. Another 43 percent of retailers say they have invested more this holiday season in a Twitter campaign or Twitter feed.”

Meanwhile, about a third of online shoppers say they’ll make more of their holiday purchases on the Internet this year. Their main reasons: around-the-clock convenience, easy price comparisons and a desire to avoid crowds at the stores.

Should such factors continue to draw shoppers to the Internet, more and more businesses are likely to promote websites and Facebook accounts in their holiday advertising campaigns in future years.

About
Mike Moran has worked as a news and sports reporter, and news manager for the past 30 years, in markets that include Rochester, New York; Colorado Springs; Panama City, Florida and Monroe, Louisiana. He also teaches Speechmaking at Mesa State College and assists his wife, Toni Heiden, in managing her real estate company in downtown Grand Junction. Mike is active in Kiwanis Club of Grand Junction, the Mesa State MBA Alumni Committee, Habitat for Humanity, the United Way and the Botanical Gardens of Western Colorado.
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