Are you missing out on distance selling? - Business Works
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Are you missing out on distance selling?

Ian Simpson, Managing Director, Catalogues 4 Business eBay has empowered millions of small companies and individuals to become distance traders and easily and cheaply sell to a much larger market. It has shown that with the right communication, it is easy to tell people what we sell and it doesnt matter where they are in the world.

Despite this eBay revolution, many businesses are still missing out on distance selling (or mail order as it used to be called). Indeed, our Channel Vision study found that over 50% of businesses that could sell via mail order dont do so. Why is this? A key reason appears to be that businesses associate mail order with major brands such as Argos, Boden or Screwfix and fail to realise that there is virtually no product or service that cant be sold from a distance. Even very specialist trade suppliers can sell in this way.

The second reason why many miss out on distance selling is that they think its simply too complex. Yet the concept of distance selling is simple: you send out an offer; you get responses; and you dispatch the goods or implement the service. Indeed, great distance sellers are simply good at getting the right offer to the right people. Thats because they focus on product, market and communication.

Here are some tips for getting these three crucial elements right ...


The products or offering should be thought about carefully the more niche the better. It also helps if you have some experience of the market you wish to sell into. Not least, it helps to get into the mindset of your customers. If you are already selling, then base your distance selling offering around your best selling products and test. If you are a start up, then you will have to rely on gut feeling when coming up with your product / offering but thats not always a bad thing.

With stock, try and get the best deal on sale or return with suppliers, don't be tempted to tie up too much initial investment in a large stock holding. If a supplier is able to deliver for you (direct ship) then your margin will be less but so will your risk. You will very quickly be aware of your best-selling items and what you will need to re-order. Try and work with suppliers that have short lead times let them take the risk of holding large stocks.


From a B2B perspective it is fairly easy to establish a target market; your product or service dictate it. Similarly, if you are an established business then a quick analysis of your current database will point you in the right direction. However remember, as a rule of thumb, a business database degrades by about a third every year, so you have to keep on top of it. Specialist companies can help you cleanse it and find you new names.


Once you have established what you are going to sell and who to, you have to the work out how you are going to communicate your offering. Without doubt you will need a website this may be an extension of your existing site or completely new but get the platform right and ensure it is robust and expandable. Its easy to sit back and rely on web and email only but it is important to recognise that digital communications are largely passive and need to be supported and driven by other channels such as catalogues and direct mail. Indeed, research proves beyond doubt that producing catalogue or other mail order pieces, dramatically increases the sales activity, builds customer loyalty and encourages repeat business. For instance GI Insight recently found that just under half of UK consumers are driven to visit a company website by an item of direct mail. So be prepared to have as many channels as possible; web, e-mail, social media and direct mail / catalogue.

Distance selling is growing at a phenomenal rate. We now feel very comfortable placing our order and sitting back and waiting for the parcel or service to arrive. So dont be one of those who discount it out of hand! If your business doesnt embrace distance selling, it could be missing out on a major revenue stream.

Ian Simpson is Managing Director at design, print and marketing company Catalogues 4 Business, the UKs leading specialists in catalogue design. For more information or help with your distance selling business: or phone 0845 2300 258.

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