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E-Tailer's Digest                                                                                         October, 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/.
Overstocked and Underfunded

Tackling the tricky problems of online retailing.

What’s the best way to get rid of excess merchandise? How do you promote a Web site without a budget? Members of the E-Tailer’s Digest forum debate these and other pressing questions over the Internet.

Too Much Inventory

Kaye Snyder, emaline(at)ptmc.net, asks: How do I move overstocked merchandise? I have a specialty shop (gifts and collectibles) in a rural area. I would like to know what other small retailers do to move overstocked items (especially collectibles), and the most profitable way to clear out merchandise that is not moving as it should. We have sales, but I don’t like to do this very often. I have limited space for storage, so it’s important to keep my inventory moving. I’m more interested in information about a source that would be interested in buying some excess merchandise from time to time.

Patty Sachs, pattysachs(at)cwixmail.com, responds: Rather than selling the merchandise at a great discount to a stranger, wouldn’t it be better to have periodic "Customer Bonus Days," during which your preferred customers could benefit from these bargains? You could make it very special, by invitation only, and festive with refreshments. Maybe it could be an early-bird sale, so it would not interfere with your regular traffic. Sort of a "goodwill for good riddance" move.

Matyjewicz says: Patty’s suggestion should be executed with much flair and a lot of publicity (to your regular customers only). If you rely on general clearance sales to move excess merchandise, folks will just wait for the items go on sale. While there are companies who will buy overstocked merchandise, you probably won’t get much more than ten cents on the dollar.

A Virtual Store Plan

Victoria George-Ellis, victoriabay(at)gwis.com, asks: Should businesses have a specific business plan for an Internet store, or just use their brick-and-mortar store plan with some modifications?

Matyjewicz says: Business owners who go virtual usually have a basic idea of what they want to accomplish. They test the ideas on the Net to see what works, and then they develop a plan based on the results. I usually advise specialty retailers who want to initiate e-commerce to put 15 products at three price points on their Web site. Promote the products, change them around, and analyze the results. Then develop a business plan and a formalized site.

Todd Mogren of Coastal Tool, sales(at)coastaltool.com, describes the plan for his company’s Web site and how it was executed: The goal of our site, www.coastaltool.com/ind/, from Day One was to sell. It was not designed as a promotional brochure. First and foremost, we sell. The design is built around finding items as quickly as possible. You may be shocked at its utter lack of graphic cohesion; to some eyes it’s downright ugly. We use standard typefaces and very few graphics. If text alone can do the job, we use text. It even lacks a search feature.

Regional Web Sites

David Thuillier, dreamers_den(at)conknet.com, asks: How do you target a local or regional market over the Internet? The store I run sells role playing and collectible card games. A game club asked if they could plan events to be held in the store. Their hope is to find other people that play similar games and get together for contests and such. I supply the space and prizes, and they supply a steady group of people that would potentially purchase products.

Ideally, the group would like to put up a Web site in which the results of these games could be seen locally. The hope is to start off small and slowly build the group up. How can this site be publicized as a regional event to a regional market over the Internet?

Matyjewicz says: Some search engines (Yahoo!, for one) offer local coverage, and you can get on them relatively quickly. There are also search engines specific to states, such as New Hampshire’s www.nh.com. I believe there is one for every state. Keep in mind that even the most proficient search engine only tracks 16 percent of the pages on the Web, so it behooves you to get your site listed on as many search engines as possible. There are thousands of them, some of which are specifically geared to regional areas.

Garland Coulson, gcoulson(at)connect.ab.ca, adds some real world experience: Locate a local directory of Web sites, and have the site listed on it. I have found at least six or seven in the Edmonton [Alberta, Canada] area, and all of these have been free. Find local newsgroups and post messages on a regular basis, updating events, listing results, and making sure that there is a tagline on the posting with a link to the Web site.

Promoting Your Web Site

Mark Rousseau, mark(at)eshepherd.com, asks: How can I promote my Web site inexpensively?

Matyjewicz says: You have to spend money to make money. You wouldn’t open a brick-and-mortar store without budgeting money for advertising, so why do so on the Net? Yes, free posting methods do work, but to be truly effective you will eventually have to spend money. Following are some of your options:

There are a dozen major search engines as well as thousands of smaller ones that may be more targeted to your potential customers. If you know how to reach them, you can list your site for free. There are also services that will do this for you at a reasonable cost (usually under $100).

Banner ad exchanges and link exchanges will work if there is a lot of traffic on both sides. This method would be like a brick-and-mortar store handing out sales material from another retailer in town. And don’t forget offline promotions. List your Web site address on all your stationery, business cards, packing slips, invoices, newspaper ads, and anything else that has to do with your business. Be sure to have signage in your store saying, "Visit us online at … ," especially if you have lots of customers from outside your area. (On my recent Alaskan cruise, I found a few shops that I thought I’d like to purchase from again, so asked about their Web sites. Only one store had a site, and since there were no signs informing me of that fact, I would never have known if I hadn’t asked.)

If you are an expert on a particular subject, (collectibles, say), consider writing articles for the hundreds of thousands of publications online. Pick those that cater to your business, and approach them. This may not directly generate business, but it can help raise awareness of your site.

Your advertising should include opt-in mailings (sent only to those visitors who opt to have material e-mailed to them, so you avoid alienating people with "spam"), targeted ads on heavily trafficked sites, keyword ads (when surfers enter search terms that relate to your business, they see you ad), contests, press releases, sponsorships, and other types of paid paid marketing.

Don’t forget to ask your suppliers for co-op advertising funds. Remember that all the money you put into your advertising budget is for a worthy cause: building a brand for your business. ?

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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