The changes in the job market have led many Black business owners to explore the opportunities of e-commerce. As a means of reaching what is thought to be a limitless market, the Internet has become a valuable tool for entrepreneurs and some now even prefer it to the traditional storefront.
In August 2011 Madame Noire, an online publication that identifies itself as the Black women’s lifestyle guide, published an article about successful Black entrepreneurs. All seven of the business owners in the article entitled, “Stylish E-commerce: Black Online Fashion Entrepreneurs To Watch,” utilized the Internet exclusively to market and sell to their target audiences. If one did a Google search today, they would find many more Black-owned e-commerce sites have sprung up over the past decade. Among these are shopandreaiyamah.com which predominantly sells swimwear, shop-als.com – an ethnic jewelry retailer and shopbgki.com- an aggregate of Black-owned e-commerce retailers.
Vanity Beauty Cosmetics is owned and operated by Christal Quiles. Quiles, a resident of Atlanta, credits the low overhead, broader customer base and rapid rise in Internet shopping as reasons that she recently decided to leave her physical store and transition to an online based business.
Although Quiles felt that e-commerce was the best option for Vanity Cosmetics, she offered benefits for both business approaches.
“Storefront consists of a heavier workload and more overhead, however there is a more personal connection with consumers which makes it easier to establish repeat customers. On the other hand, my online store reaches consumers from all over the world. One of my best customers resides in Denmark!” offered Quiles.
While e-commerce businesses do come with some immediate benefits, they also come with some unique challenges that require the business owner to be knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the online marketplace. “Search Engine Optimization” are three words that can make or break an Internet-based business. Knowledge of SEO can help drive people to a particular website.
“I have hired a marketing company to maximize SEO so that customers can find my website more easily via various search engines,” says Quiles.
Although e-commerce does seem to be a popular choice among new and seasoned business owners alike, some still believe that the face-to-face rapport is essential to a successful business.
Akilah Lawrence, a resident of Covington, GA is in the process of launching her own retail business but prefers to work directly with customers in a boutique as opposed to an online store.
“It’s more personable. The person can feel more comfortable while shopping because they know who they are shopping with,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence also believes that face-to-face contact is the only way to give real customer service.
Like any business, e-commerce has positive and negative aspects. Many entrepreneurs in the digital era have found that operating virtually can be just as or more rewarding than a traditional brick-and-mortar. Although it hasn’t fully replaced storefronts, one thing is for certain: this style of business is becoming a serious contender for its conventional counterpart.