Even people who like the outdoors enjoy shopping from the comfort of the indoors.
Nobody wants to buy a snowmobile online, right? Or a motorcycle? Or a cabin? Right?
According to the 2011 National Assn. of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 88% of home buyers use the Internet to find a home. If that many people are looking at major purchases online, chances are they’re researching outdoor equipment as well.
Even if shoppers don’t want to buy online, they may want to research, build or design a virtual machine until they get up the gumption to visit your store, try it out and finally plunk down the money to bring the equipment home.
What happens if your website doesn’t let them explore options or provide the information to decide they need that utility tractor this year? Someone else can get your sale and maybe your customer.
Online is More Important Than Ever
Despite a disappointing 2012 holiday sales season overall, shoppers swarmed the Internet. In fact, 2012 was the fourth consecutive year in which Internet sales increased during the holidays, according to eMarketer.com. Beyond that, studies show shoppers are using mobile devices to research and buy online.
So what does this mean for the outdoor equipment and rural lifestyle dealer? With high-speed Internet beginning to blanket rural areas, now more than ever, you need to expand your website. A robust web presence is increasingly important to your credibility as a business and your ability to attract new customers. That means the site needs to be well designed and, most importantly, have fresh content to give people a reason to return. And, with more farmers and rural residents relying on mobile phones and tablets, it means your site must be optimized for viewing on a computer screen and other platforms. According to the Local Search Assn., 30% of the 2.2 billion business searches online in 2012 were local and came from mobile devices.
Move Beyond ‘Placeholder’ Sites
Many businesses have a web presence, but continue to have what many call “placeholder” sites. These are sites that are little more than online display ads. These sites are a start. However, if all your website does is share unchanging information about your location and equipment, how will it engage current and prospective customers on the products and services you provide? How does it help showcase your knowledge to prospective customers?
Consumers crave information, and that’s a major reason they turn to the Internet. Mere product lists aren’t enough. Instead, offer images, product descriptions, consumer ratings, links to manufacturer sites and a shopping cart. Consider adding a blog or helpful hints to advise consumers how to use or maintain equipment, establishing you as an expert. Instead of just posting your address, include a Google map and offer interactive directions.
The price of Internet technology has declined over the years to where even small companies can afford software that allows them to sell online. Even if you can’t, you can make your site visually appealing, easy to navigate and informative. Look at the websites you visit and incorporate those better ideas into your site.
Social Media is One Way to Start
The easiest way to get started online is to employ social media such as Facebook. Social media is a great platform to interact with customers informally and to engage them in personal dialogue. Although it is tempting to rely on a free Facebook site, social media works best in a support role for your online presence. And, with any marketing strategy, you need a plan to reap the most benefits.
Approach the web the way you advise your customers to approach the equipment you sell: Let the experts do what they do best. That may mean investing in a professional to design and update your site and ensure it is seen by as many people as possible in any format they want. It’s worth the investment. Remember, the Internet is now where your customers are and that’s where you need to be, too.
Todd Foltz is senior public relations account executive at Osborn Barr, an agriculture-focused, full-service marketing agency. He supports the Equipment, Outdoor and Rural Lifestyle Group, providing marketing solutions for some of agriculture’s largest machinery, tire and building companies. He has spent more than 15 years writing about agriculture and advising agricultural companies on marketing.