By Taylor Smithfield
Let’s face it; window-shopping just isn’t what it used to be. Strolling down Main Street, longingly gazing through glass windows at mannequins and TV sets is practically considered a nostalgic pastime. Today, most shoppers prefer to let their fingers do the walking on their mobile device. While still technically peering through tiny glass “windows,” they’re most likely strolling to the office break room, riding the subway or, quite popularly, sitting on the toilet. Regardless of where people are when they shop online, one thing remains true: it’s all about convenience and accessibility (and killer online deals).
While gun buying is still conducted mostly in-store (for obvious reasons), it’s important for dealers to find ways to satisfy the mobile shopping experience, otherwise they may find themselves falling behind. Conveniently, the NSSF’s 2016 Firearms Retailer Survey Report gives us a look at dealer trends and sales (including online sales). Let’s dive into the section on “Advertising And Online Marketing” to get a better picture of where the firearms industry stands.
While the number of online shoppers continues to increase in the U.S. (research firm Mintel says 69 percent of Americans shop online at least monthly), some firearms dealers are moving in the opposite direction, decreasing their online retail presence.
The NSSF report shows while 46 percent of dealers had no online store in 2014 (a number that was slowly waning every year as more and more joined the virtual marketplace), dealers did an “about-face” in 2015 — a whopping 60 percent reported to have no online store, a shift of 14 percent. That’s a significant change!
Additionally, the NSSF report shows interest to eventually sell online has waned, as well. In previous years, around half of the dealers surveyed said they were looking to expand their sales floor to the Internet. However, responses to the same question in 2015 show a 12 percent decrease to pursue an online store.
An Ironic Twist
However, while the actual number of online stores has decreased overall, dealers who do sell online report their online sales contributed to roughly a third of their profits in 2015 (just over a 5% increase from 2014). This ironic twist shows even though customers had less avenues to purchase online, they still ordered more products online than in the past two years (those online shoppers are relentless!).
With increasing demands for convenient mobile-friendly shopping as well as internet-friendly pricing, virtual storefronts are clearly here to stay. Prepare yourself for this: Forrester Research projects online sales in the U.S. will increase by a staggering 56 percent by 2020 (as was reported in 2015)! Things are clearly moving in this direction.
Now is an excellent time for you to examine your virtual business presence. While nothing can replace a store walk-in — actually handling firearms or examining accessories — you can still create an engaging web experience that entices customers browsing your website to want to browse your store’s aisles, as well.
First Impressions Matter
Regardless of whether you sell online, bare minimum it’s essential to have some kind of online presence, specifically your own website. The NSSF’s report shows the number of dealers who maintain websites took a leap backward this year, matching with trends from back in 2012. Only around 65 percent of those surveyed said they have a website for their business as opposed to the 74 percent who reportedly had one in 2014. While it’s unclear why these dealers choose to remain offline, it’s obvious there are significant advantages to maintaining a virtual presence.
In today’s mobile world, if you don’t exist online then you don’t exist at all for those customers. Whether or not your website comes up in a Google search can mean the difference of a sale. Customers like to prepare before they shop, and this means checking out your website before ever stepping foot inside your doors. It’s a convenient way for shoppers to gauge your legitimacy, your product offering and, quite simply, your basic information like phone number and address. (I can’t tell you how many time I’ve “x-ed” out of website when I couldn’t find something as basic as a store’s location.) We all know first impressions matter, but a customer’s first impression of you doesn’t just include your physical storefront anymore. It often starts much earlier at www.yourgunstore.com.
Don’t Get Too Comfortable
One thing is for sure: online shoppers will undoubtedly continue to dominate the marketplace with each passing year. Though many dealers are understandably comfortable with their current brick-and-mortar setup, it’s a mistake to get too comfortable in that niche — especially when forecasts show online spending is increasing every year. It’s simple: When you join the virtual marketplace, you expand your customer reach significantly.
If you’d like to join the ranks of other brick-and-mortar dealers that have an online segment of your business and get details on how to setup your own store (including firearms-friendly vendor recommendations), look back at Outdoor Marketplace’s April 2016 column, “Becoming An ‘E-Tailer’ Is Virtually Effortless.”