While many time-starved consumers forgo small retail stores for "one-stop shopping" at Wal-Mart or other big-box retailers, the Internet lends itself well to virtual browsing and buying. Someone who refuses to drive across town to see what a small business has to offer may be willing to click to its Web site.
Thus, reports IDC, the number of SMB retailers selling stuff online has grown from 21 percent to 32 percent over the past two years. According to a New York Times story about IDC's research, cheaper and more sophisticated technology -- not to mention SMB-oriented Web services offered by giants such as Amazon and Yahoo -- makes it possible for SMBs to build Web sites that rival those of their large competitors.
Both Yahoo and Amazon charge SMBs a monthly fee and a percentage of their sales to build and maintain their Web sites, which can include the same sophisticated cross-selling features used by Amazon itself. A presence on Amazon and/or Yahoo also makes SMBs more visible to search engines.
Though this kind of search-engine visibility helps, it can't replace the inflated marketing budgets of big retailers. But social networking is helping to further narrow the gap, reports the Times.
The CEO of ThisNext.com, a site that features shopping recommendations from bloggers and other folks, says most of the recommendations are for products from smaller retailers. A Computerworld Australia story from last December, which cites research showing an increase in the percentage of online sales to SMBs from 2003 to 2005, attributes at least some of the increase to buzz on blogs and social-networking sites.
The CEO of a Dallas company that sells environmentally friendly gardening supplies tells the Times that his company has seen sales increases from posting video product demonstrations on YouTube and other sites.
While stories like his shouldn't be discounted, many marketing experts say that making online improvements such as streamlining online checkout processes offers a more effective way to boost sales than social networking.