Industry sector: Retail and wholesale

Architectural salvage: Trading online

There are four main ways of using the web to boost your sales:

  • selling goods online
  • using your website, classified advertising websites and/or other specialist online directories to advertise your business and stock to a wider audience
  • using specialised internet advertising services to promote your business and website - for example Google AdWords
  • using social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to maintain your business profile, and to network with potential and previous buyers and sellers

Selling goods online

You may well decide to sell things online. There are two main ways of doing this:

  • by setting up an e-commerce website of your own
  • using eBay (you could also use online classified advertising websites like Loot and Gumtree, but unlike eBay these don't generally enable you to complete the transaction seamlessly online)

If you decide to use your own website for e-commerce, you'll need to set up things like a shopping cart facility and a secure online payment system. Professional web developers can do this sort of thing for you if needs be. If you use eBay, you'll need to familiarise yourself with how the website works and learn how to put together good auction pages. There's lots of helpful information about how to do this on the eBay website itself. You'll also need to set up a PayPal account or another payment solution so that people can pay online for the things they buy from you.

Obviously, some types of architectural salvage are more suitable for selling online than others. Ideally, items that you offer for sale online should be fairly small, light, not too fragile and easy to package and send securely. Bear in mind that it often takes the same amount of effort to sell a £2 curio on eBay as to sell something like a £250 vintage bath tap set, so you might want to concentrate on higher value items if you don't have much spare time.

Business websites

Many people use the web to search for hard-to-find salvage items that they're looking for. Having a good website means you can advertise your business to people no matter where they are in the country - and indeed the world.

If you keep a good, up to date list of stock on your website, complete with photographs, price details and descriptions, then would-be customers can browse for and locate the items they need without even leaving their homes. Once they've found what they're looking for, some will be prepared to travel a considerable distance to get the right item. Others might ask you to send it to them.

It's worth making the effort to get a good, professional looking website designed and built. And you'll need to make sure that it's visible to the major search engines too - specialists can help you with this. Keeping your online stock-list up to date can be time consuming, but the effort should be rewarded by additional sales.

Remember, people all over the world can look at your website, so don't just assume that they'll know what you mean when you say something like 'we're just opposite the big pub on the river'. Consider displaying prices in several currencies - or at least linking to a currency converter website. Give dimensions in metric as well as imperial units. Make it clear where you will ship items to internationally - and where you won't. If you're really serious about attracting overseas buyers, you could get key pages on your website translated into other languages.

Consider maintaining a regular 'blog' to keep visitors to your website up to date with your latest finds, trends in the salvage industry, and other important events in your business.

Many people use mobile devices with small screens to browse the web, so it's important to make sure that your website looks good and works fine on these.

Online directories

There are plenty of online business directories available. Some you have to pay to be listed in, others are free. One advantage of being listed is that people who search for, say, "architectural salvage in Gloucester", may click though to your own website from these pages.

Some online directories are specially for the architectural salvage industry. For example, the Salvo website has a directory of dealers, classified advertisements, and a searchable database of salvage items for sale nationally.

Online advertising

There are various different ways of making sure that many people see advertisements for your business when they're browsing the web. Some specialist online advertising services such as Google Adwords can also help to target your ads at the people who are most likely to be interested in them. However, this type of advertising can be costly and you'll need to decide whether you can justify the cost - it may not be suitable for businesses like architectural salvage specialists.

Social media

More and more businesses consider it essential to have a presence on social media websites like Facebook. In a specialist trade like architectural salvage there will be plenty of people with an interest in your latest items of stock, special offers, hints and tips on restoration and maintenance, and so on. Keeping a Facebook page up to date can help you to stay in touch with regular customers and keep them coming back to your website and showroom or yard. You might decide to Tweet regular pictures of your latest acquisitions to help you find buyers for them.

You might decide to contribute regularly to online forums for people interested in things like traditional architecture, period living, restoration and recraft. This could help you to establish a name for yourself online and boost your credentials as an authoritative expert.

An integrated approach

If you're serious about using the power of the web to boost your business then you'll probably use a combination of some or all of the above and integrate them as much as possible. Your website, for example, could include links to your eBay listings, while your Facebook page could link to your website and blog. You could also include links to your website wherever possible on forum posts and online classified ads.

You might also decide to use email for marketing purposes - for example to tell regular customers about your latest items of stock - but you'll need to make sure you stick to privacy regulations and avoid irritating people by 'spamming' them with unwanted messages.

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