Online shopping is the future

There is more to embracing ‘new technology’ than using GPS mapping, drones and robot tractors. Online shopping has become crucially important to building a viable business.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

Have you ever watched the reality show Shark Tank on television? It’s the South African version of Dragon’s Den, with entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to a panel of business moguls looking to invest in potentially lucrative concepts or inventions.

These range from cosmetics, medical equipment, hand tools and clothing to computer games and even a method of building large modular buildings.

Some of these products and their production processes are ingenious. But if there is not a well-researched basis for confidence that the product or service will sell, the investors flatly refuse to get involved.

So obvious, isn’t it? This is such a fundamental requirement for business success, yet all too often one sees entrepreneurs, farmers included, so mesmerised by their product, production process and vision that they overlook this hard fact of life.

There ’s no getting around it: if there’s no market for the product or service, there’s no future for the business!

Once past this barrier, the Shark Tank investors inevitably move on to how the product is going to be marketed and sold, and here is the real surprise.

I would follow a presentation, trying to second-guess the investors and thinking at times that a particular idea was a winner and that the ‘sharks’ would readily invest in it. However, when it became clear that the product, for one reason or another, did not lend itself to being marketed and sold online, it was rejected every time!

Blind spot

Why was I always so blind to this crucial investment criterion? It didn’t make sense. I use the Internet every day of my life. I have a smartphone and follow the social media, news, weather and visit websites.

On holiday recently, I finally arrived at the answer. I quizzed my computer-literate (and smartphone-obsessed!) children about their online shopping habits, and found that there is nothing, including highly perishable food items, that they do not shop for or buy online.

It was something of a shock to discover just how backward I was in my appreciation of the power of the Internet in our daily living. Was this why I had not developed an appreciation of the importance of online shopping in building a viable business?

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Most business managers, especially those from a farming background who don’t get to town too often and who have managed businesses in a similar environment and during the same era as I have, are likely to suffer from the same blind spot.

We grow it, but We don’t know it!

As males of a certain generation, I suspect that we have, by and large, left the shopping up to our wives. Machinery, feed, fertiliser, livestock, seed – these are the things we buy. And they are generally not the kind of items you can purchase sight unseen, based solely on the brand.

The things male farmers buy (and therefore know about) are not the kind of things they grow and sell! In other words, when it comes to food and other items, women are far more in tune with shopping trends and practices.

I was in my mid-40s when I put my hands on a computer keyboard for the first time. My children did so in their late teens, and my grandchildren are doing so in kindergarten.

Connecting via the Internet comes as naturally to younger people as picking up a pen is for me, and while I cope pretty well on a computer keyboard, I’m not so great on a smartphone!

All of this means I’ve been at a disadvantage when it comes to online shopping or marketing, and I now realise it’s blinded me to the reality that the future of business is going to be online. Have you also been blind to this?