What Is an Internet Storefront?by Nicole Wiegand
For businesses, the Internet presents a previously untapped source of potential customers. In the past, stores had to rely on their brick-and-mortar locations or catalog mailings for sales. Today, merchants can use an Internet storefront to find new customers and entice them to purchase their products or services. An Internet storefront can refer to any website that offers goods or services for sale; shoppers can visit this virtual store at any time of the day and from any location.
Using an Internet storefront offers multiple advantages to businesses. An effective online storefront can expand a business's geographic reach; even a small local business can attract a national or international customer base. For businesses without a physical store, there's no need to maintain a large inventory and overhead costs are reduced. Marketing using online promotions costs less than traditional media initiatives, and online marketing can often be more precisely tailored toward potential customers.
Inventory and Order Fulfillment
Unlike brick-and-mortar stores, Internet storefronts don't need to maintain a physical inventory. In fact, many online retailers use drop-ship services as an alternative to storing inventory in a warehouse. In a drop-ship arrangement, when a customer places an online order with a drop-ship retailer, the retailer passes that order on to the product’s manufacturer or distributor. That manufacturer or distributor then ships the product directly to the customer. This system greatly reduces the need to hold inventory or make major financial investments to start an online store.
Online vendors are unable to accept cash during transactions; however, many other forms of payment are available to customers. Shopping cart software is available to enable retailers to accept credit cards on their websites. Many online storefronts provide customers with an alternative to using credit cards. The most common alternative payment option is PayPal, which allows customers to bypass a store's website and make secure payments. Other payment systems include Amazon Checkout and Google Wallet.
Operating an online storefront can be challenging. Shipping and handling can become expensive, and competition on the Web is fierce. Security also needs to be a priority whenever financial information or other user data is transmitted during an online transaction. Business owners typically use secure sockets layer technology to encrypt user information transmitted through their website. Multiple checks are conducted to confirm the identity of a business before an SSL certificate is issued, so using SSL to secure your transactions will also let your customers know that your business is legitimate and trustworthy.