The Five Keys to Internet Retailing

The Five Keys to Internet Retailing


For the last few years, I’ve been preaching to credit unions about becoming internet retailers. This is often met with blank stares. What exactly does it mean to be an internet retailer? And how do you get good at it? We’ve been working hard to develop those skills and over time I’ve developed a list of the top five traits I think a good internet retailer must have.

1. Offense over defense

Most credit unions have embraced an internet retailing culture defensively, making changes in response to what members have wanted. A good internet retailer tinkers with their strategy and maintains the mindset of an internet consumer. Be proactive and try new things before the member knows they want it.

Build the solutions, build your default to action – design your processes and improve on the way to the future.

2. Don’t wait for the “right” solution

“I’ll add this service when this feature is automated.” If this is you, you’ll need to change this way of thinking. Stop waiting for everything to be perfect—get started. Figure out your strategy and your goals, then add tools over time. Too many credit unions reverse this, finding a tool or product and then building a strategy around it.

It will be your process designs, your drive to complete the deal with your member online that is more important than the tools you use. The more you develop your intent to be on offense the better. Tools are just a function of evolution, so do not overreact to a sense you are behind or late to the game.

3. Everything’s “yes” until it’s “no”

The goal is to say yes to the member and proceed to the next phase quickly—but that next phase may take some behind-the-scenes work. Don’t look for all the ways you might turn a member down for a product or service up front, get them through that figurative front door and then do the work of making it work behind the scenes.

Internet retailing is a series of quick messages proceeding through a process – do not let the process stall. Keep you and the member on the path to success. Not losing their attention is key. It’s not always a one and done deal; win at every step by quickly affirming each step along the way.

4. Start small and stay agile

If you want to lend on the net, then set up the situations where you can and do it without hesitation. Start with savings secured loans (not much underwriting there) or signature loans (not much collateral verification there). Build on success and improve speed and commitment. As you strengthen your internet retailing muscles, you’ll be able to tackle bigger, more daunting projects.

It took years to develop your comprehensive loan portfolio step by step – the Internet is the same. Start with easy, fast, and low resistant products that prove you are quick to meet the member’s needs. With a track record you can evolve to the more complex.

5. Your relationships with your members are your advantage

Too many CUs are trying to be internet retailers across the board. Focus first on what you can do to garner the respect of your best relationships and the core members that drive CU success. I would rather be a competent internet retailer with my committed, known audience than be constantly tracking unknown audiences that may never respond.

The key to success on the internet is trust. Focus on the lines of business where you have bonds of trust between you and the consumer.  Authenticate your members so both sides are clear on who is engaged and looking for solutions.

And there you have it! Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to meeting the members where they are and finding wins online.


  • Randy Karnes

    From 1994 to 2021, Mr. Karnes was CEO of CU*Answers, a credit union-owned CUSO that provides core processing, consulting, management, and technology services. An active participant in the credit union industry since 1985, Mr. Karnes currently serves on the Boards of Xtend and eDOC Innovations and formerly served on the Board of Callahan and Associates for many years. Mr. Karnes has an infectious vision and drive for bringing credit unions together to explore the power of collaboration in entirely new ways. His enthusiasm for imagining and building new credit union business models has been helping to change the way many credit unions will approach serving members now and in the future.

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