Why should my store be on the Internet?
This is one of the most common questions that business owners and retailers ask. The Internet offers a brand new medium on which you can sell your products and services. Millions of people worldwide wander around Web sites on the Internet twenty-four hours a day. Yet businesses are hesitant to take advantage of this instant global market. This article discusses some of the benefits you will receive with a Web store and answer some of the concerns around Web stores.
Open 24x7 for business
This is one of the best benefits of a Web store and having ecommerce a shopping cart software program on your site. With a properly implemented site, you can sell products and generate revenue twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You are always open, ready to take money and conduct business. This is especially important because your Web store hours now match the schedule of all of your potential customers. Whether you they free time during the day or they are browsing the Web late at night, you are ready to receive the order.
Instant customer service
Your site doesn't have to just take orders. You can provide instant customer service. Place common questions and answers on your site where they are always available for your customers. Not to mention that friendly aid and advice from a fellow happy customer can be invaluable in marketing and generating sales.
Instant global market / No geographic boundaries
With a Web store, you are instantly selling to people all over the world. People no longer are constrained by geographic boundaries. Customers can visit and purchase from stores located in different countries with minimal effort. Passport, plane tickets, gasoline – none of this is required - just a browser and an Internet connection.
Because the Web 'levels the playing field' by eliminating geographic boundaries, there are some different marketing strategies you must take. This will be discussed later in the article.
Having a global customer base introduces the problem of different types of currencies. You will need to make sure your Web store is capable of handling your international customers if you want to accept their orders.
Your competitors are selling on the Internet
Finally, as we all know, you are in a competitive market and you have competitors. You are instantly doomed to fail if you think that there is no money to be made on the Internet or your competitors aren't considering about it. Chances are very good that at least one competitor of yours is currently conducting business on the Internet. And that's business you are losing. If you want to compete with this type of aggressive competitor, then it's time to play hardball. You need to have a good Web store on the Internet - for your current customers and to win over new customers.
What does my store need to be successful?
Ok – you are convinced you need a retail presence on the Web. Now what? Well, setting up a store on the Internet involves some of the same principles as setting up shop physically.
Above everything else, you will need to use common sense in order to succeed. For instance, if you are selling children's toys over the Internet, then you should expect that January would be a slow month, regardless of the Web store's appearance. Beware of making seasonal assumptions though! Remember that it may be winter in the US, but it is blazing hot in Australia! And with a Web store, you will have customers around the world.
An automated sales mechanism
You would not open a physical store without a sales clerk to complete a sales transaction. You should not open an Internet Web store without a similar mechanism to take a customer's order. Your Web site is available twenty-four hours a day. That means you should be able to take a customer's payment for goods twenty-four hours a day. If your Web site does not do this, then you are missing the whole point of having a Web store.
Your sales mechanism for your Web store MUST be automated. Imagine the following scenario: You walk into a mall retail store. There are all sorts of great products you want to buy. You pick out some items and go to check out. Instead of a cash register, there is a note saying that you should e-mail them your order or call their 1-800 number to place an order. What would you do? You would probably think twice about your order, decide it isn't worth it, and go to the next store.
So WHY would you do this for your Internet Web store? So many Web stores do just this, and then the proprietors wonder why they haven't made any revenue. Here's a clue: YOU NEED AN AUTOMATED SALES MECHANISM FOR YOUR WEB STORE! Just like a regular retail store, your Web store needs to be interactive during the sales process, to ensure the user that they are placing a tangible order. Since the user cannot physically pick-up products on your Web store, you need some kind of "shopping cart" system (more on this later). When the customer is satisfied with their selections and ready to purchase, YOU need to get the payment information from them. Don't put the ball in their court by asking them to call or e-mail. Chances are good that they won't bother.
A professional appearance
Your Web store must look professional and be easy to use. No exceptions. You need quality pictures and descriptions of all of your products. The Web store must be easy to navigate and easy to figure out. Any confusion in your Web store turns directly into lost sales.
A professional appearance is also critical because of the lack of geographic boundaries. Your customers can now choose between you and your competitors with little or no effort. This means that if your Web store is anything less than professional, your customers will probably go somewhere else. And because of the nature of the Web, it is real easy to go somewhere else. So your store must look clean, sharp, and professional in order to maintain and generate new business.
A thorough marketing plan
Just like any other business venture, a marketing plan is critical. You CANNOT just throw up a Web site and expect to instantly generate revenue. You need to think about how you are going to go about getting customers to your Web store. Knowledge of your market and common sense are critical for this. Create a plan of action, and then carry it out. Measure your results, and alter your plan to perform better next time. These are just basic marketing principles – and they are necessary for this venture.
Internet marketing strategies
Marketing on the Internet is similar to any marketing, but there are some specific strategies you can take to increase the number of customers visiting your Web store and making purchases from you Web store.
Use non-Internet marketing media
This is so important! Do not confine your marketing to the Internet! Advertising, press, flyers – these all should be considered in your Web store marketing plan. If you have existing marketing channels established, then you should use them to promote your Web store. This includes mailing lists, newsletters, and printed catalogs. Your Web store URL should be everywhere. You can't make sales on your Web store if you don't tell customers where to go.
Search engines are a very important part of your Internet marketing plan. They provide a starting point for the wandering Internet user, and can be valuable when they direct customers to your Web store. Make sure to take the time to design your Web store to be optimally placed within search engines. This includes the use of meta tags, image captions, and other Web design techniques. There are many resources for optimizing Web pages for search engines – search around the Internet for them, buy a book from your local book store, or buy a book from an Internet book store. Optionally you may consider other products and services that can automate the Web page optimization process for you. These products and services will also submit your Web store to hundreds of different search engines and Internet indexes and can be very valuable in automating a normally tedious process.
Realize that search engines CANNOT be your only means of Internet marketing. This cannot be stressed enough! There are thousands of different Web sites out there that share something in common with your Web store. Some are competitor Web sites and some are informational. All are competing for search engine ranking with you. Do not rely solely on this ranking as your only Internet marketing means. You are condemning your Web store if you do. You will never be able to give yourself top billing on all the Internet search engines for all the different sets of keywords that describe your Web store. Spend your time mining marketing resources that have better payoffs.
Word of mouth
Word of mouth can be an important part of Internet marketing, just as with physical stores. Do not, however, rely on this method as your sole marketing plan. Word of mouth is good at increasing existing business – turning a decent amount of Internet traffic into an amazing amount of Internet traffic. Word of mouth is not good at creating new customers from a small or nonexistent customer base, and it needs to be supplemented with other forms of marketing. You definitely want to encourage your users to talk about your site. You may want to consider offering referral discounts or other incentives.
Using a PHP shopping cart is the single most important aspect of automating your Web store. This allows the customer to pick and choose what they want to buy and then purchase everything at once. It provides the customer with a 'virtual shopping cart.' When they want to buy something, they place it in their virtual shopping cart. Later they can remove the product from their virtual shopping cart if they change their minds. When they are done shopping, they can purchase the contents of their shopping cart.
Online shopping carts and software programs provides your customers with an interactivity that is necessary for the purchasing process. Customers need to be able to examine products closely and obtain in-depth information. Needless to say, shopping carts must be easy and intuitive. If not, customers will become frustrated – and will not buy from your Web store.
There are many different implementations of shopping carts and automated sales mechanisms available. They range from simple ASP to PHP/MySQL full-blown, easy-to-use products. Some automated sales mechanisms provide Web-hosting services. You will need to decide what level of service you require. Realize that some Internet sales automation companies and products require you to host your Web site on their servers, and would require you to destroy a stabile and trusting relationship with your existing Internet Service Provider.
An important aspect of shopping carts is their ability to calculate shipping & handling and tax. When the customer is buying products, it is important to let them know how much they will be spending in shipping & handling and tax. So it is important that the shopping cart has the ability to calculate this automatically.
Another feature to look for in a database shopping cart software is the ability to get authorization to charge a credit card during the purchase process. If the customer does not enter a valid credit card, then you do not want to accept the order. Your shopping cart should be able to interface with your merchant bank to obtain this real-time authorization. Shopping carts may directly contact your merchant bank, or use a third-party service such as CyberCash to interface with your merchant bank. Using this feature, you can obtain authorization real-time, and then actually collect funds from the credit card when you ship products. Or if you are selling information, you can collect the funds automatically when you obtain the authorization.