WebFronts – Not Just for the Big Guys

Combine the traditional shopping experience with the efficiencies of the web and you have the makings of a “WebFront”. Put that reatil shopping experience into a smaller boutique-type store and you just might find the perfect combination to lower costs, increase customer satisfaction, and become a more environmentally-friendly business in the process.

Customers are able to touch the products and in the case of clothing or shoes, even try them on. Instead of taking the items to a check-out stand or cashier; they take a bar-coded tag or card to a kiosk and add the item to their electronic shopping cart.

Customers will be mailed their purchases and are often given a discount if they opt for purchasing over the web instead of purchasing the item in the real-world store.

The idea is an interesting one in a variety of ways. For example, it allows a full-service retail clothing store to have only a few of each size of each item on the shop floor thereby requiring a significantly smaller store space as well as not needing to maintain a high level of inventory. The smaller store size and inventory levels allow store owners to maximize their square foot to sales ratios and also makes for a more environmentally-friendly business. Smaller stores equate to less heating, cooling and lighting needs. And, once customers find the sizes and fabrics they like; they can order with confidence from their own homes.

WebFronts for Crafters

Using this business model in a crafty world; it would allow for crafters that make items that vary mainly in color, fabric or size to make less items up front and create new items only after they are ordered. It would open up crafters to using the Just In Time inventory model rather than hoping they have made enough of an item or worrying if they made too many.

Think it would work for consignment or boutique shops?

I suspect shops in tourist areas would do well with this set-up. Customers could buy with abandon and not worry about getting the items in their luggage or on the plane. I’ve seen so many sales lost by luggage limitations and airline restrictions. By ordering the item they have in their hands and having it’s duplicate delivered directly to their home, customers could have their special treasures safely waiting for their return home or even sent directly to the recipient of their vacation gifts.

I believe shop owners and crafters would need to allow for customers to purchase immediately, even if at a premium; lest last-minute gift shoppers and the immediate gratification shoppers be turned away.

Beyond the purchase, perhaps customers both online and off could be asked to provide their contact information and be put on both the store’s and the artisan’s mailing lists.

I first heard about WebFronts from a fairly lengthy article in Inc. Magazine. The company being profiled sells clothing to a specific niche target audience that would be quite likely to be supportive of the green nature of both the clothing sold and the business model. While their business model is based on projected sales in the tens to hundreds of millions – it would seem such a business strategy would work just as well for the more humble sales made by individual crafters and the shops and boutiques that showcase their wares.

Any thoughts?

A few suggestions for further reading...

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