What are shoppers looking for? The Internet shopper surfer wants to learn all about
your operation and your products and services. Whether youre a manufacturer or a
retailer, it behooves you to provide as much information as possible to help shoppers make
the decision to buy.
In recent studies, Internet shoppers ranked in order of importance the information they
expect a Web site to deliver. The things they found most important were detailed
information on products and services, prices and price comparisons, information on the
availability of merchandise, and the location of the store. On the flip side, they ranked
the reasons sites displease them. They were turned off if they couldnt find what
they were look for, if the site was confusing or slow to load, or if the site was poorly
World Wide Web chat rooms and discussion sites have truly made the world a global
community, giving consumers a forum to voice their retailing experiences, good or
otherwise. Smart manufacturers and retailers will listen, since disgruntled consumers can
get the word out, whether or not youre online.
Your Sites Contents
First of all, look at the big picture. What do you want to use your site for: to
sell product online, or to serve as a promotion tool informing customers about your
business, the products you offer, and the services you provide? Who is your target
audience: college-educated thirtysomethings, working moms, or Latinos in major cities?
What makes your store different from the competition? (Be sure to come up with something
stronger than "products and people.") How would you like your site to be
organized? Are you going to design the site yourself, or take it to a professional
Web-site designer? (If you are going to do it yourself, keep in mind the things that turn
off online shoppers.)
In developing your site, use the "elevator speech" as a starting point: You
enter an elevator in the Empire State Building. You are pleased when a prospective
customer who you have been trying to meet for months gets on and presses "62,"
the floor youre going to. You now have approximately 90 seconds to tell the prospect
about your business, and why he or she should buy from you. There are certain elements of
this speech that are critical. You must include a profile of your store or company,
including its history. Tell the prospect the latest news about your business (such as new
product introductions or store expansions) and why you are unique. Offer a sampling of the
products that you are selling. (Fifteen items at three different price points would be a
good start.) Explain your stores special customer services and its policies
regarding returned merchandise.
Is It Safe?
If you plan to sell online and have customers submit their credit card information,
be assured that this practice is as secure as giving out the same information over the
telephone when ordering from a catalog, handing a card to a waitress at the end of the
meal, or paying at the pump at the local gas station.
Technically speaking, the Net has secured servers that accept credit card information
and transmit it safely. The 16-digit credit card number is split into four individual
packets, each of which travels the Net separately, to be reassembled only at the final
Of course, you can always offer an 800 number on your Web site for customers who are
more comfortable ordering via telephone.
Commit to your site for at least a year, and be prepared to spend some money.
Dont expect to see any results in the first six months. Start with 15 products at
three price points and monitor what happens. If the higher-priced items dont move,
replace them with lower-priced ones, or change them. This is the same technique that you
would use in your brick-and-mortar store.
Test your promotional campaigns and modify them accordingly. One thing nice about the
Net is you can see the results of a campaign quite easily. Direct folks to a special page
on your site, and see how many people visit. This is much like direct marketing, but on
the Web you can see where your visitors came from and where they went after they left you.
Getting the Word Out
The cost of marketing your virtual store could start as low as $500, and, at the
other extreme, could reach into the hundreds of thousands. Begin by placing your site
address (URL) on your business cards, stationery, literature, and print advertising. Hang
a sign in your store that reads, "Visit us online at
There are many online vehicles that will allow you to promote your business, from
classified ads to banner ads. You should also send out press releases to let the local and
trade media know of your site. Also target search engines on the Net, which function like
gigantic Yellow Pages of every address in the world. Take a look at the more than 90,000
discussion groups on the Web, which allow folks with common interests meet online and
discuss issues pertinent to them or their businesses. For example, at
"E-Tailers Digest," retailers meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to
discuss all the issues related to retailing. Many of these lists accept paid sponsors to
help offset the costs of maintaining the forum, this is a great opportunity for you to
reach a targeted audience.
Relationship building is common on the Net, and it works very well. Companies with like
interests can help promote each other via links to each others sites.
Too many "newbies" to the Net think that they can buy a list of e-mail
addresses and send out notices to the world. Wrong! On the Web, such unsolicited e-mail is
known as "spam," and its sure to annoy many potential customers, if it
doesnt get you banned from the Net. Instead, use legitimate "opt in"
mailing lists comprised of people who have chosen where to receive information. But, you
need to be careful and know the company youre renting the list from.
The Net also has affiliate programs, whereby folks partner with you to sell your
products or services in exchange for a commission. Amazon.com was the first to start an
affiliate program, and it helped them climb the pinnacle on which they sit today.
Companies like eToys also offer affiliate programs, and many pay high commissions. If it
is a win-win situation for you, use them.
Whether you are ready for it or not, the Internet is certain to affect this industry
and your business over the next couple of years. If you are armed with the right knowledge
and a detailed strategy, youll be able to join the revolution instead of getting
trampled by it.