Imagine for a minute that your company is thinking about opening a store in a new market. Although the conditions in this market change at an incredible rate, you know for certain some demographic information.

For example, you know that there are currently at least 90 million consumers in this market. Your research shows that 57% of the households have an average income of $50,000.

The population growth is constantly expanding. And within the next four years, this new market will purchase in excess of $1.3 trillion worth of goods and services annually. Predictions show that of the total goods and services purchased by 2003, $108 million will be attributable to online retail sales.

Now, imagine that it's your responsibility to decide if your company should open a new store in this market. For many businesses, the decision to enter this market is a no-brainer. But how would you go about it? Well, you would probably draw from the same experience and qualities that have allowed you to succeed in other markets.

Retail experience counts The good news is that this new market already exists - on the web. But does your way of thinking have to change just because we are now talking about the World Wide Web?

Yes, but not as much as some may lead you to believe. In fact, your company's experience in retail may make you better suited to establish an online presence than many e-commerce retail rookies. Consider the following facts:

* About 60% of online shoppers are using both established retail stores and the Internet in the course of making the majority of their retail purchases.

* More than 40% of consumers who use bricks-and-mortar retail in combination with cyber-retail are more likely to patronize a retailer with an e-commerce website.

Now, consider your company's bricks-and-mortar presence, and think of it in terms of the Internet. Unlike most new pure e-commerce companies, your company has the following:

* An existing brand. Your brands are your identity. Consumers have a multitude of purchasing options on the Internet, but when given the choice they'll usually go with whomever they already know and trust.

This is where your bricks-and-mortar presence puts you at a distinct advantage over most online-only retailers. Your customers have visited your store. They are familiar with your merchandise, and they have a real and visual understanding of who your company is and what its products are.

* Loyal customers. Any successful business has plenty of loyal customers. They are loyal because a sense of service is conveyed during the sales process. The ability to translate this sense to the web is a challenge. But it is a challenge that you, as an experienced retailer, are better suited to handle than most retail rookies. Your proven customer service know-how can help you get a leg up on your pure e-commerce competitors.

* Relationships with vendors. Your company already has established relationships with a list of crucial vendors. The relationships are valuable when conducting business online. Your business has the capability and experience to smoothly process an order from supplier to customer. This reliability is an asset when dealing with e-commerce transactions over the Internet.

Some of the most prevalent complaints from consumers doing business over the Internet pertain to the reliability of delivery. For non-commoditized industries, these relationships allow your company to present a unique product mix. If you are successful in the bricks-and-mortar world, then you no doubt have solid relationships with these vendors. These relationships offer you a real advantage over Internet-only start-ups. Use this advantage at every possible opportunity.

* Traditional retail experience. Some retailers are afraid of the Internet. This fear stems primarily from a lack of familiarity with this exciting medium. What these retailers don't know is that many of the same retail practices that are used in traditional stores are adaptable to the Internet.

Increasingly, Internet malls are offering avenues to help get traditional retailers onto the web. These malls are helping retailers deal with the new and relatively uncharted waters of e-commerce in a way that maximizes the new medium while still recognizing the traditional principles of successful retailing.

These experiences and characteristics will give your company an edge on the Internet over your e-commerce only competitors. Keep this in mind when making the decision to establish an e-commerce site for your company.

Historical perspective The industrial age took 100 years to develop. The computer age, although still developing, has taken a fraction of that time. And the rate ofdevelopment of the Internet economy is eclipsing both.Think of it this way: It has taken years to develop your brand. The Internet is yet another way to reinforce and capitalize on that identity. Embracing this medium now will give your company an advantage over others that wait to go online.