A Fortune article dated June 2015 named African American women the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America. Right now, Black businesses in the US are opening at a rapid pace and are thriving.
In order to keep the momentum going, we need to look at the internet as a means to expand our marketplace. E-commerce sales grew by 19 percent in the last year, while traditional retail sales crawled at 3 percent comparatively. These numbers suggest that more and more businesses can survive and thrive by going the digital route exclusively, or prior to opening up traditional brick and mortar stores.
In case you're still on the fence about the use of technology in relation to your business, here are five reasons why more Black retail entrepreneurs should go digital.
1. The world is your marketplace.
The number of online buyers in the Middle East and Africa is expected to grow by 82 percent by 2018. Sites like Jumia, created by two Harvard business grads, and dubbed Africa’s Amazon, has taken Nigeria with their rising middle class and robust economy, along with 11 other African nations by storm. 20 percent of Japan’s retail sales are E-commerce sales and China also has a huge E-commerce market.
Selling goods online means that you can live in one place and distribute to another. Khalfani Joseph, creative director at Iridium, a Black-owned independent retail store located on Michigan Ave in Chicago states, “The internet is the reason we were able to open our first store. Hundreds of people from around the world still go on our website to buy our products, the demand can be overwhelming.”
With Japan as Iridium’s largest market, they are proof that Black American entrepreneurs can spearhead a movement to export our goods to other countries.
2. Creatively respond to a need.
When Jumia was created, its founders Tunde Kehinde and Raphael Afaedor were able to succeed because they serviced a growing need for organized retail in Nigeria, as well as other countries in Africa. When Kehinde thought about how to service the needs of many Nigerians who needed products such as clothes for a party, or an electronic device, he thought “let’s not wait to build malls, let’s launch online” and doing so helped him gain rapid success.
After being independent for 60 years, Nigeria still needed help in creating a retail industry and technology helped make that happen. In America, we have a number of e-commerce sites and a huge start-up culture. That being said, even here, there are still ways to capitalize digitally on people’s need for fashion, fabrics, jewelry, beauty and more importantly, our need to be entertained. We just have to stay competitive with our merchandise.
Corporate America’s reluctance to fully grasp the concept of E-commerce has left the door open for independent retailers to cash in and build a buzz quickly within digital communities. Sites like Karmaloop.com owe their success large in part to the community of readers who went on their site to shop as well as read articles, watch videos, and listen to music. African Americans frequent online communities more than most, so we have a leg up on the competition in building up an E-commerce brand around online communities. Finding the need within the community and servicing that need creatively is the key to digital success and prosperity.
3. Attract more Customers.
The number of online shoppers is set to grow from 1.079 in 2013 to 1.623 in 2018, according to a United Nations report. Since we are smack dab in the middle of that growth period, now is the perfect time to jump in the mix, start a business, and start selling. Americans today are shopping online now more than ever.
4. Lower Up Front Costs.
Traditional Brick and Mortar stores have the potential to cost an arm and a leg, especially once you factor in utilities and fancy décor. The nicer the neighborhood, the more your out of pocket expense. With an online store, there is no need to come out of pocket for a spot on the right side of town. You can sell your products to anyone with a computer, for way less money.
5. Potential for Growth into a Brick and Mortar.
So, after just praising the ability to open a store online for less money, we’re now discussing opening a brick and mortar store. Some business owners, are content with keeping their retail businesses online. However, there are those who are comforted by the idea of having a physical presence to go along with their online store. There is nothing wrong with that! If a brick and mortar store is the end goal, then by all means, start small and build.
Sometimes, we have to use what we got to get what we want, and if what you got is a computer and enough money for a website, then by all means start small until you can afford to reach your goal. Part of the value in online shopping is that we can use it as a way to bring people to a physical location. Some companies, such as the retro eyewear brand warbyparker.com sell their products exclusively online, but have traditional show rooms across the US.
When starting a business, do what works for you. There is no right or wrong way, as long as you innovate and use every tool at your disposal. Going digital is a great tool to build your business, whether the end goal is a physical store or a digital one.
Elizabeth Aguirre is a technology professional with more than 8 years experience working in the software industry. Currently, Elizabeth is pursuing an M.S. in E-commerce at DePaul University and works as a consultant for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing in Chicago. She is on a one woman mission to empower small business owners through the use of technology.When she is not being a "cool mom" to her daughter Esther, she enjoys working on her personal web page, the Chitown Reikologist.