As e‑commerce sales continue to grow, more retailers are seeking ways to further boost their online sales. E‑commerce has been around for 15 years, but chain retailers are only now beginning to invest in their online businesses, said Mark Brohan, director of research for Internet Retailer magazine. While online sales aren't expected to overtake or replace brick and mortar stores, the e‑commerce channel is the fastest growing part of the business for many traditional retailers, Brohan said.
Traditional retailers are finding that they can provide a wider range of choices online, without the need to take up space in their stores. To that end, some retailers are testing in-store kiosks. The kiosks are a place where brick-and-mortar retailing meets the Internet. It is a new initiative for retailers such as Kohl's, aimed at boosting sales in whatever channel works for the customer: in the store or online.
"They can test market products on their Web sites without making the investment of putting them in the stores," said Dick Seesel, who operates Retailing in Focus, a Mequon consulting firm.
Some retailers who are selling lines of merchandise online that they don't carry in their stores don't ever handle the merchandise, which is shipped directly from the supplier. In those situations, the retailer has the benefit of selling things without making an investment in the inventory, Seesel said. In addition, some in-store kiosk programs allow customers to search for extended sizes or out-of-stock items and order online.
"Department stores were a little slower getting online," said Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst with eMarketer, a New York research firm. "Now they're making up for it."
Retailers are actively promoting their websites with in-store reminders, such as the public address system, as well as with social networking efforts on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Department store retailer Bon-Ton has about 15% of the contents of its stores available online, said Jimmy Mansker, senior vice president of planning and e‑commerce. The online option is particularly appealing to customers in rural areas who typically travel long distances to shop in one of Bon-Ton's stores, Mansker said.
Other retailers, such as Kohl's and JCPenney, are making significant e‑commerce investments as well. JCPenney is upgrading its website, adding interactive videos that focus on product and adding connections to social media. Kohl's is also upgrading its website this summer to handle 10 times more traffic than it could last November, said Erika Maschmeyer, analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co. in Chicago.
"Most brick-and-mortar retailers are seeing more growth online than in stores," Mansell said. Because Kohl's online sales are such a small part of the company's business, there is great opportunity to expand the business, he said.[Source: Hajewski, Doris. "Brick-and-mortar retailers kick up sales with kiosks." JSOnline.com. Journal Sentinel, 22 May 2010. Web. 4 Jun. 2010.]