Why Go Online?
Customers are using websites for research more now than ever. Gone are the days of websites only providing basic information like store hours and location. In the age of information, your customers will most likely try to make a decision before they even enter your shop. They want to find out what products you carry, what services you provide, and why it’s worth their while to come into your store versus buy online with other retailers. There are many distinct advantages like convenience and physical interaction with products, which is why brick and mortar vape shops will continue to exist, but the stores that will thrive will be those that expand their sales channels and digital footprints as a part of their overall marketing plans.

Do you offer any services customers can only take advantage of in-store? Are you looking to offer an in-store pickup and/or delivery option to your customers? Do you have a pool table and a large couch? Having your loyal customers are great, but you need to keep bringing in new business for growth. Highlight your stores advantages by presenting these selling points on your website. If you don’t have a site, you can expect that customers will move onto the competition which has a strong web presence built up.

The Technology Barrier for Compliance
You have many choices for website store builders when deciding to start your project. The FDA has some strict requirements, and other general recommendations on E-Commerce for Vape Products. Age verification software, an age content gate and Nicotine warning header are a must, but those industry requirements typically require coding, plugin apps or custom development. In addition, changing legislation can bring an extra layer of complexity to the setup with legislation being passed on a state, county or even local city level.

E-Commerce vs. Web Catalog
First, let’s understand the difference. What is a web catalog? A web catalog is a supplement, or in many cases, a replacement for the traditional printed catalog where customers can view a company’s entire product line. Web catalog websites do not have live shopping features or functionality meaning customers are unable to add products to a cart or checkout to place orders.

A web catalog can be exactly what it sounds like, an informational website where customers can look at any information you want to present including products, hours and location. An informed customer that has previewed your store and product offerings online will be more likely to make an initial visit to the store.

What is e-commerce?
An e-commerce website is a web catalog, but includes the ability and functionality for customers to add products to a cart and checkout using a secure payment transaction, resulting in an order being generated and fulfilled.

Creating an e-commerce store has powerful advantages like increasing customer loyalty and building new customer revenue opportunities. There are also some daily responsibilities associated with it like processing and shipping orders. For many companies the advantages are worth the extra effort. Capturing the new revenue you would be otherwise be missing also means your competitors aren’t getting that income.

Your Digital Footprint
The older generations are quickly catching on and participating in the digital revolution. My Grandma (86 years old) sent me a bitmoji she created last week. People born in the year 2000 have now turned 18. The younger generations are learning how to code as a language class in middle school. It is fair to say everyone younger than you will have a greater technical background than you. For all generations, it is quickly becoming the norm to research products online before purchasing. On many e-commerce websites, you can check inventory at your local shop before leaving the driveway or even purchasing online for store pickup before leaving the comfort of your couch.

In order to remain competitive with other local stores or even stores across the US, a digital footprint is quickly becoming a standard business requirement. Just like many things are being digitized, you store needs to be as well. The cost of creating and maintaining an e-commerce store or web catalog has become a standard operating line item for stores. The overall cost impact is minimal relative to the customer value provided and potential opportunity in growing revenue. Industry experts and CDC data estimates online and other retail channels have accounted for roughly a quarter of all e-cigarette sales in 2018. In addition, analyst estimate another third of e-cigarette consumers bought directly from retail vape shops. Your customers are looking for your digital footprint, if they fail to find your store, they will move on and find another store that will satisfy the way they want to shop.

What’s Next, More Regulation Guidance?
The future is quickly taking shape. In the coming weeks and months, the FDA is expected to provide more guidance and regulation for the industry. It is expected that stores will be required to adjust their physical and digital presence for customers to purchase. Finding the right mix of website offerings: web catalog, e-commerce, and digital tools to help you manage under new regulations will be a key priority for all stores. SVBS

Jake Fisch is the co-founder of Compliant Commerce. A website builder specializing in e-commerce and online catalogs with B2C and B2B solutions in regulated industries. You can get in touch to learn more about their services by visiting compliantcommerce.com and signing up for a demo or emailing [email protected]