Originally published by Steve Smith Feb 22, 2012
As a product (or service) based small business owner you might be asking yourself – ”why do I need to display my products or services online? My customers like the hands on (in-store) approach to buying my products. It’s always best to meet potential customers in person and start to develop a long term customer relationship.”
We couldn’t agree more, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider setting up a storefront in the digital online world in addition to the traditional offline storefront, commonly referred to as the “bricks and mortar” world. The thing to keep in mind is this – e-commerce (the marketing and selling of products or services on the World Wide Web) is not just about selling, its also about visibility, branding, building trust, pre-qualifying customers and having your customers pre-qualify you (more about each of these to follow). But how is this possible when so many websites seem so cold, so cluttered or so impersonal? The answer to this question is, simply, so don’t build a website that is cold, cluttered or impersonal. Build a website that is user-friendly, easy to navigate, chock full of valuable information and most of all – engaging the customer to want to find out more about your business.
Lets briefly discuss the above points;
Even if you don’t list a single product on your site, at a minimum you want to at least have your business be found and provide at least some information about what you do, who you are and where to find you. Recently an important milestone was reached, as the total value of online advertising in the United States surpassed the value of print based advertising. This tells us that the majority of advertisers, large and small, now feel that it’s more important to reach their target clients online than through the more traditional print based methods, newspapers, magazines and the like. The current and up and coming generation of consumers, both personal and business based, no longer use phone books. The go-to location for finding a business is now Google, followed by some of the lesser known search engines. I don’t know about you, but my phone books generally go from the mailbox, to a shelf in my office and then to a recycle bin about a year later, with very little page wear I might add. I’ll cover Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in at least one other article, but suffice it to say that having a site built from the ground up with SEO in mind is the key to effectively getting your website, and hence your business, visible to the customers you are trying to target.
You’ve probably already heard about the importance of a consistent, easily recognizable brand. You use branded products every day and, if you are like me, you may sometimes feel bombarded by brand based marketing. I’m not going to get into details about why branding is important, you probably know that already, but in the context of extending your business presence onto the web, suffice it to say that the importance of consistent branding goes up a few notches, and extends from the offline world to the online one. The look and feel of your online presence should complement and sync with the look and feel of your offline presence. If you are an auto repair shop, you probably don’t want your website to be filled with swirly fonts, artistic graphics and quotes from modern poets, unless of course your logo, décor and storefront match that image. More likely you want it to look clean, sturdy, rugged and friendly. Ideally you want a customer, after finding you online and driving to your offline location, to immediately know they have arrived at your actual business, because it closely resembles what they have seen online. If your business talks about being customer centric, casual and friendly, that impression should be realized once a customer walks in the door. To emphasize the point, you should not think about branding in terms of two worlds. Your online branding and offline branding should complement, mirror and flow into each other.
We live in a skeptical world where consumers of products and services become more cautious, savvy and demanding with every passing year. Its no wonder! In todays hyper-targetted environment, we are subject to a constant barrage of get-rich quick schemes, “too good to be true” offers and bait and switch games that ultimately end with broken promises and a loss of trust, or worse…Your website should be a way to instill trust in your customers, to help them feel comfortable about giving you some of their hard earned money. How do you do this? There are many ways and I won’t go over them all in detail here, but some of the more effective ways are; telling the client about your company in a way that is open, friendly and perhaps even fun, offering real testimonials and reviews from other customers, being clear and upfront about your policies regarding payment, warranty, refunds and exchanges, etc and offering a selection of ways to speak to you, ask questions and give feedback, whether it be by phone, email, social media or online chat. Heres the good news.. none of these things are really difficult to do, if you spend a little bit of time planning it out.
They don’t call it the World Wide Web for nothing. It’s a web, and an enormous one at that. To use a fishing analogy (we like those) – when you cast a big net you sometimes catch a lot more than what you are looking for. It’s the same with the world wide web, and that’s why it is absolutely critical to be very selective about how you word your website and how you structure those words. You want to, as closely as possible position your website so that it is seen by the people you want to see it. The major search engines have made incredible strides in recent years in terms of doing a better job of showing more relevant results, both in searches and in paid advertising. The trick is in knowing how to put in place the things that the search engines want to see. That’s the first part.
The second part is – once the visitor lands on your page, how do you ensure that you are providing them the right kind of information to make sure that a) they have enough information to want to pursue it further and b) they are within your target customer base. That’s the pre-qualifying part.
Allowing Your Customers to Pre-Qualify You
This may sound a bit alarming, but bear with me for a moment. This article deals with the premise that e-commerce is not just about selling online. So what if you can increase sales at your offline location with or without selling online? That’s what an effective product or services based website can do.
It’s incredibly difficult to measure, but there is strong evidence to support the belief many traditional sales are secured before the customer even walks in the door. According to a recent Search Engine results Page Insights study, 76 percent of people online gather information a product online before ordering from a store or catalogue. Providing the salesperson doesn’t say something inappropriate or there is some other event that causes the buyer to change their mind, they are going to buy an item. Why? Because they have already done their homework and have enough information to feel comfortable about liberating some cash from their wallets. The savvy shopper has read the product information, specs, reviews from other customers and compared prices online before they stepped foot in the store. Some even do that while they are in the store (think barcode scanner on a smartphone, yes it is happening!). This is why geographic targeting in addition to the steps mentioned above are critical.
So, if all this is true, why even bother selling online? If you are thinking along the lines of expanding your markets and offering the convenience of delivering to the doorstep, you are on the right page. If your interest is mostly in promoting your business locally, online selling may not be a necessity, but an effective online presence….is.