Jerry Miles, BookFeller.com, wrote in with a great question about making the most of the customers who visit his retail store.
I want to be able to sell online products in my bricks-and-mortar store, whether physical or affiliate. In other words, I’d like to sell items listed on Amazon, eBay, etsy, etc., in my store as virtual products, at least to those with a smart phone.
We are an out-of-print bookstore. If we acquire a nice copy of “Lonesome Dove”, we could set up a small display and sell a range of related products from other vendors online: the movie, posters, t-shirts, belt buckles, e-books, whatever… in my physical store!
That way I can create an experience in-store by picking the best I can find.
I want to maximize my customers’ opportunity to purchase in the shop as well as online. I already have their attention at that moment. I’ve already “paid” for that attention through rent, utilities, taxes, etc.
If they can buy from my in-store display, they could also buy from my shop window when we’re not open.
I can also establish the same concept online, selling the books we have in stock and the related products listed elsewhere.
In Europe, people can buy via QR codes, but most here are not especially familiar with those. So how do I make those online sales in my physical store?
Jerry has such a great idea here, bringing together physical items in his store with items that are available for purchase online from other stores. This is a smart strategy for rural businesses who need to make the most of each customer through the door. The question is how to make it happen with today’s tools.
Omni Channel meets rural independent merchants as RuralOmniLocal
In the big retail world, the convergence of online and offline sales is called “omni channel” retailing. Because we’re all rural and local businesses, I came up with RuralOmniLocal to describe ways we find to bring the online to our offline stores.
When Jerry sets up the display in his store, he can get creative in how he showcases those online-only items to customers. Besides just printing out pictures of what people can order, he could also create mock-ups, like printing a new insert for an old DVD case to feature the streaming move.
Selling products you don’t own: Affiliate marketing
Jerry wants to be able to sell online items for other businesses and take a cut of the sales. This is often called affiliate marketing.
For example, anyone can sign up as an affiliate of Amazon and get special affiliate links. Any items that anyone buys using your affiliate links give you a very small commission on those sales. So Jerry could find the streaming movie at Amazon, get his affiliate link, then send interested customers to that link to watch Lonesome Dove. If they pay, he gets a small commission back from Amazon.
Other well-known shopping sites like ebay and etsy also offer similar affiliate programs. When you join, they walk you through the whole process of selling their items and receiving the commission. They’ll teach you how to get the affiliate link for any product you want to sell from their site.
So the first step is to sign up with any affiliate programs you want to join.
Helping customers with smartphones make affiliate purchases: QR Codes and short links
Second, Jerry wants to be able to get customers to visit those special affiliate links on their smartphones while they’re in the store so they can make the purchase. It doesn’t matter how you get them the link, so long as they follow it. The trick is getting that link to the customer in a way that they find super easy.
Most of the current answers are not that great.
- You could print the affiliate link on a paper sign, but affiliate links (even short ones) usually include a string of random-looking characters that aren’t easy to type accurately on a smartphone.
- You could convert the affiliate link to a QR code that doesn’t require any typing by the customers and post that on the sign, but that leaves out the majority of people who don’t use them.
- You could post both the QR code and the short link. That will reach more people than using either one alone.
These clunky solutions got me to thinking. There has to be a better way to get people a link easily based on how they already use their phones.
Using text or SMS to deliver links
You know what most people are happy to do on their phones? Send text messages or SMS. So let’s use that as a way to get them a link.
- You could use a text autoresponder to send the short affiliate link to people as a text/SMS message. On most smartphones, links in messages are clickable, delivering them straight to the website.
You’re probably familiar with text autoresponders, used in contests and signups. For Jerry’s example, it might be “Text DOVE to 555555 to get the movie.” Customers send the text, and the autoresponder service sends them back the link. They click the link, make the purchase at Amazon, and Jerry gets a commission.
TXT Impact has a pretty good explanation of more ways to use SMS/text autoresponders on their sales page. (I haven’t tried their service. I just like their explanation.)
Can you replicate this in your online store? Of course. Create a special page on your site to feature the book and all the related items. You’ll sell the book using your own eCommerce setup, and you’ll sell the related items by linking to them using your affiliate links.
Is it worth it?
This would be a lot of work for very thin affiliate commissions, but you could definitely do it with tools available to you today.
Read our entire RuralOmniLocal series.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.