Buying Sight Unseen a Growing Trend

A New York Enterprise Report story profiles an Ecuadorian immigrant who came to the United States 30 years ago. He sold encyclopedias door-to-door at first, opened a furniture store six years later, and today is a multi-millionaire and CEO of 1-800-MATTRESS.

What a great illustration of the American Dream!

Just as interesting in a different way, is a little gem buried in the article about selling on the Internet. The founder’s son talks about how people are getting used to buying things over the Internet that you might never expect could be sold sight unseen, such as mattresses:

“…the Internet has benefited the entire industry, and retailing as a whole. It’s just created an entirely new revenue stream and it’s going to continue to grow.

We’ve found the transition into cyberspace pretty easy, because we’ve been doing a lot of remote selling, without any brick and mortar, for over 20 years. And I think that customers in general are getting used to buying things sight unseen. And we are working on improving the experience, the feel and texture of the product, through the use of images to help them even more.”

It’s another chapter in the continuing saga of the growth of online sales. For instance, VeriSign reports that online commerce jumped an astounding 88% just during the 2004 holiday season over the prior year.

Not only are online sales growing overall, but as the quote from the New York Enterprise Report indicates, they are growing in categories you might not have imagined could be sold successfully online.

Small businesses can find untapped opportunity in this trend of willingness to buy more high-touch stuff online.

Online commerce keeps getting easier and within reach of small businesses. The cost of technology keeps coming down. The functionality keeps improving. And the technology gets easier and easier to use.

It costs less to set up an online store than a brick-and-mortar store, if you have reliable suppliers who are willing to do fulfillment directly to the end user. You also need to understand how to sell online (much different than in-person selling). And you need to understand technology.

But for those with the right business model and the right skill sets, they will find that consumers are increasingly willing to buy items sight unseen over the Internet — even items traditionally thought of as needing to be touched and seen.

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.