We live in a very fast-paced, high-tech information age that has changed the world as we knew it practically overnight. And it’s going to continue to change exponentially, especially when you consider the Internet now works with such high-speed productivity tools and connectivity like smartphones; tablets, super-powered laptops; Wi-Fi hot spots; wireless routers; digital photography and so much more.

So what does this have to do with Savvy Hardwood Business? Consider how retail selling is undergoing a revolution, or at least a swift evolution. Some studies put total e-commerce at almost 20% of nonfood sales by 2020, up from just 14% and $300 billion last year. We’re witnessing a merger of online selling with bricks and mortar, and the implications are huge for all, from retail floor covering stores that sell hardwood flooring to their suppliers, shippers, employees, and customers.

The new norm will be “multichannel shopping.” What this means is purchasers will do their research online, customize what they want to buy and order it on a tablet in a store with a salesperson’s help, and then have it delivered and, in most cases, professionally installed in their home. By 2016, half of all consumer purchases will incorporate some online or mobile component with comparison shopping, ordering, customizing and paying.

For many retailers large and small – with the exception of a few special niches that will buck the trend – survival will mean embracing the model. Big chains are already going down this path, allowing customers to buy online and pick up their merchandise at stores, or else see and touch products at stores, then order online with free delivery included.

Today, the vast majority of consumers still visit retail flooring showrooms to see, touch and feel the material. But the decision on what they will buy was most likely already made before leaving home. Perhaps as many as 65% of hardwood flooring buyers already shopped online to pick out their brand, style, and prefinished color they are interested in. Then they go to the store to finalize their choice and make the purchase. This form of online shopping allows the consumer to do her homework, research all the options that are available and, of course, compare pricing

There are nevertheless a lot of retailers that resist putting pricing on their websites. They are just now, with help from their distributors and manufacturers, getting product catalogs on their websites. But pricing is a different issue. We’ve been able to price shop online for cars and houses for several years now, so why not hardwood flooring?

Today’s consumers are the most informed and well-educated buyers ever. They don’t want to go into a store to make a major purchase like hardwood and come away disappointed that their selection did not meet their expectations or level of affordability. Even worse, you may very well run the risk of the buyer not even bothering to visit your store if he or she can’t get an idea of pricing from your website.

In addition to attracting potential buyers, online product pricing also allows you to run seasonal and end-of-the-month specials to get the attention of your prospective buyer and encourage them to take immediate or even “online exclusive!” action.

Many flooring retailers at some point in the past few years developed a website to be viewed as “current’ with the business model of the day. The problem is, many have not taken the time or made the investment to make updates or upgrades to their original design. Yes, it has a home page, a company history, a listing of products offered and the other “pertinent” information that was the norm 4 or 5 years ago. If this describes your online vessel, sorry, but your ship has sailed and you have already lost untold business to your competition.

Step one is to do something about it. Now. You can get help from your supply channel partners who have already done the development and can provide you with many of the necessary and attractive tie-ins to their products. If you consider yourself tech-savvy, you can build your own website on Webbuilder.com, godaddy.com or a litany of other such sites. Personally, I highly recommend finding a professional in your area who specializes in website development to give you an edge.

Take a look at the big box store websites to get an idea of what is possible. You certainly don’t need to spend that kind of money to incorporate an online product catalog complete with pricing, timely specials, discount offers capability, and interactivity. But you’ll get an idea of the possibilities out there to give you a solid starting point to get your online presence up to date.

If you are a leaderin e-Commerce, then my hat’s off to you. You are a progressive thinker. You have a keen understanding that change is the only constant in life, and that the speed of business gets faster and faster every year. You have already witnessed a good spurt in your top line sales even in this slow recovery because you have taken market share from your competition.

If you are a follower, the good news is you’re in the game. And if you’re not already, there’s no time like the present to get off the sidelines. But if you decide to do nothing and stay with what you have (or in this case, what you do not have), you’ll soon be forced – not asked – to get out of the waybecause your competition will continue to capture a bigger share of your local market.