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  E-commerce Success Guide

Do Not Neglect Customer Service

If you sell on the Web, you're likely to do a lot of business with people you'll never meet. As too many e-commerce consumers have discovered, this lack of personal contact can often translate into impersonal and unsatisfactory customer service. If you don't plan to work with your customers ever again, perhaps you can get by this way. But if you'd like to see repeat customers at your site, take active measures to deliver quality online customer service:

  • Our Ecommerce solution Sends an e-mail to customers when an order is received and when it is shipped. E-mail them again after they have received their order to make sure the products meet their expectations.
  • Answer e-mail promptly and personally. Avoid using canned responses, or at least try to insert some personal detail into each e-mail message.
  • List your physical business address and telephone number on your site. Give your customers the sense that you are a real business with an established presence.

Integrate Your Web Site With Your Traditional Business

A lot of small-business people forget to mention their Web site in their traditional print advertising, press releases, and other business documents. Make better use of these opportunities by including your Web site address (URL) on every business-related document you create: stationery, business cards, newspaper ads, and so on. Here's a short list of places to include your Web address:

  • Direct marketing materials, including direct mail pieces, point-of-sale packaging, and trade show displays.
  • Advertising, including display or classified ads, resource guides, directory listings, or Yellow Pages.
  • Collateral material, including all your company's literature, traditional stationery, brochures, spec sheets, and any other materials you might send to customers.

Understand Marketing Needs

The Web is swarming with new buyers and new merchants coming online every week. Getting your message out over the electronic din won't be easy, and you should prepare in advance for a difficult marketing challenge.

Regardless of the products or services offered, all e-commerce sites compete for "eyeballs" . time spent by Web surfers perusing products, ads, and content. Even getting listed on search engines and directories is no simple feat and can involve significant costs in dollars and time. Yahoo! now offers an option for bypassing the long wait (weeks or even months) to get listed after submitting your site, for a $199 (U.S.) fee.

Prepare an aggressive marketing plan in advance, before you begin assembling your site. Here are some suggestions:

Participate in banner ad exchange networks.

Organizations such as Link Exchange help their members trade banner ads to increase market awareness at no cost.

Pursue linking opportunities.

Many sites claim that more than 60 percent of their traffic comes from links to their sites from other sites. Seek out sites that are aimed at your target market (but are not direct competitors) and ask them to link to your site. Consider creating an affiliate program (similar to the one offered by Amazon.com) that lets other sites earn commissions by placing formal links to your site on theirs.

Use the search engines.

Identify those search engines that consistently drive traffic to your site, and the keywords people type into search engines to find you, and work to increase your position on the search returns page.

Pick a Niche You Know

Mr. Schwartz started Mabel's Music Shop (which is based in Old Greenwich, Conn.) three years ago, when he was staying at home with his infant son and needed a way to make money. He also had a deep passion for music, which was encouraged by his Aunt Mabel, who had instilled a lifelong love of music in him. "In the early '70s," he recalls, "we went to see George Winston play guitar in this little coffee shop. We were the only ones there. I'd never heard Hawaiian music before."

How do you know there's a niche online for your business? Check around for content sites that speak to particular interests. One excellent indication of a niche opportunity is findings lots of noncommercial sites about a specific topic — ice fishing, or tarot cards, for example — but few or no commercial sites catering to that interest yet.

How can you be sure your passion for the niche is strong enough? Schwartz would like to keep running his site even if he had all the money in the world. That's one sure sign.

Save Money and Keep It Simple

Your online store should be "Certified Banner Free Site! No Ads, No Java, No Banners! No Junk mail!" The minimal loading time greatly pleases customers. Remember: for a site that sells, looking lovely is a luxury. Keeping your selling message clear and uncluttered is vital.

Add Value Wherever You Can

"We sell stuff CDNow will never have," Mr. Schwartz says, "as well as stuff you can get from them. But when I buy, I go straight to the artist, because distributors only know the dollars and cents. They can't give information about the artist or the music." Schwartz's site offers hard-to-find information about artists, as well as their hard-to-find CDs, and this keeps customers loyal.

Running a business online also "saves me the cost of mailing the catalogue to thousands of people," Schwartz says. "And since all my stuff's in stock, I can ship pretty quickly." He says most of his business, "about half," comes from the Web site. He does a quarter of his business through mail order and another quarter over the telephone.

Don't Force People to Order Online

Mr. Schwartz offers this vital bit of advice: Put a toll-free telephone number on your site in large, bold type.

"Having the telephone's essential," he says. "It's all about marketing. People are reluctant to give credit card numbers over the Web. There's the perception that it's not safe." This in itself spawns an entire industry in expensive secure Web sites and encryption technology, says Mr. Schwartz, laughing that "I sound like one of those Kennedy conspiracy theorists, but that's all it is. They need a way to sell you more equipment. Because let's face it, the rent on the Internet's pretty low."



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