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E-Tailer's Digest                                                                                         August, 1999

George Matyjewicz (10051 bytes)

George Matyjewicz
George Matyjewicz of
GAP Enterprises, a management and marketing "solutioning" firm, can be e-mailed at georgem(at)(at)gapent.com. He is the moderator of "E-Tailer’s Digest," an Internet retail discussion forum located at www.gapent.com/etailer/.
The Internet and You

Part II on developing a Web site for your store

In Part I of this series (July 1999, p. 36), we explored the background of the rapid growth of the World Wide Web, and discussed some of the reasons why you, the specialty retailer, should be thinking about developing your Web site and how much it will cost you. In this article, we will examine what consumers are looking for when they shop the Internet, what your site should contain, the question or security, the length of the commitment you should make to developing your site, and how you can promote it.

Shoppers’ Rights

What are shoppers looking for? The Internet shopper surfer wants to learn all about your operation and your products and services. Whether you’re 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 couldn’t find what they were look for, if the site was confusing or slow to load, or if the site was poorly designed.

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 you’re online.

Your Site’s 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 you’re 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 store’s 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 destination.

Of course, you can always offer an 800 number on your Web site for customers who are more comfortable ordering via telephone.

The Commitment

Commit to your site for at least a year, and be prepared to spend some money. Don’t 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 don’t 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-Tailer’s 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 other’s 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 it’s sure to annoy many potential customers, if it doesn’t 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 you’re 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, you’ll be able to join the revolution instead of getting trampled by it.

 

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GEORGE MATYJEWICZ is Chief Marketing Officer and a Partner at GAP Enterprises, Ltd. a management and marketing Solutioning ™ firm that assists retailers. He is a veteran of the Internet and the computer field, as well as a former retailer and the moderator of E-Tailer's Digest.  Matyjewicz can be reached at (201) 939-8533 Ext 821 or e-mail to georgem(at)gapent.com or write to him c/o G&DA, 345 Hudson Street,  New York, NY 10014