It is common for small retailers to operate without their own premises to keep overheads low when they start out, but even as they become more established, small retailers are choosing to stick with their virtual business model. A retailer’s online presence can grow and develop via an online selling platform or marketplace, through social media or the retailer’s own branded website. Virtually anything can be had for purchase this way, from common household items such as clothes to more niche items such as vaping hardware.
Retailing was the first and is the most common form of virtual business. starting in the 1980s. Retailers can outsource everything from product development right through to the shipping – and even the sales and marketing. However, most virtual retailers may still need warehouses for their stock and an office headquarters as they increase in size.
It’s not just small retailers that can benefit from the virtual setup – the big companies and organisations have cottoned on to the savings to reap in becoming a more virtual business with Pricewaterhousecoopers and Barclays eagerly reducing office space with employees working from home on rotation during the week.
An e-commerce platform can bring a lot of benefits for a small business looking to establish itself online quickly and easily. Platforms such as Amazon or Shopify can help small retailers to create an effective online reputation.
An e-commerce business offers huge strengths over a physical premises, including:
- Low startup and operational costs
- Convenient for customers
- Saving on physical office costs
- Speedier buying/selling
- More sales – people buy more online than they would physically carry
- Products easier to find, with suggestions given to the customer
- 24/7 operations
- No geographic limitations
- No commuting costs for staff
- Easy to manage
A company without an office also attracts workers that might not otherwise be able to commute into the office – for example those with disabilities or those who live in rural areas, or have to travel a long distance.
Technology to enable virtual working
Technology continues to advance all the time, making it more possible for businesses to work entirely online.
PipeDrive is a virtual sales system and Trello offers web-based project management. Cloud-based programmes such as Google Drive make collective virtual working easier and programmes such as Dropbox make storing and sharing simple.
Colleagues can communicate with video chat and work via their mobile phones.
Shared offices and shared warehouses
However, there often comes a time when you need an office headquarters to establish a routine and be more productive, even if most of the business continues to work virtually.
E-commerce platforms such as Shopify will connect to any physical premises you have so that both will run smoothly simultaneously.
A co-working office space allows startups to share an office instead of working on the kitchen table at home or from a coffee shop. There are several reasons why most startups begin working in coworking office spaces:
- Networking is a necessity for a startup
- Socialising will make your staff happier and healthier
- Cost – you only pay for the space you need
- Coworking offices can offer perks like a communal area outside, gym or a coffee shop
A shared warehouse space also offers benefits:
- Employees in the warehouse with industry knowledge
- Shared resources – refrigeration and temperature control
- Affordability – you only pay for the space you need
- Access to management systems and logistics expertise
- 24/7 security
So while your small retail business will perhaps need a physical presence in the future due to changing needs, it’s certainly not essential for retail trading purposes anymore.
With the increase in cloud-based payments software and e-commerce platforms, small retailers can thrive online. With a search engine optimised website that reflects their brand, and savvy online marketing, there is no reason why small retailers can’t compete without a premises.