There have been plenty of promises made to small businesses about how e-commerce can transform a poor business into a thriving success through simple technology. Before we go further, let's clarify something; e-commerce must be thought of as an extension to existing business models. What do I mean? If you have a solid business model prior to expanding online, there's a good chance your business will prosper through e-commerce. If your fundamental business model is flawed, then going online will only compound the problem. Having said that, this article will deal with the former scenario.
What are the secrets of succeeding in business online? Here are ten tips to get you started in the right direction.
1.Don’t reinvent the wheel.
In other words, don’t make the same mistakes others have. Specifically, I'm talking about paying too much money for someone to build you a shopping cart (required for online transactions). While you can build one that meets your requirements, it can also suffer from serious security flaws. Purchase an off-the-shelf shopping cart that is open-source, i.e., the code is free to modify. That way, you can customize the cart to meet your exact requirements at a fraction of the cost of building one from scratch.
2.Pay extra for a quality design.
Some people are going to argue about this, but let me explain. Put yourself in the position of the consumer and imagine visiting a Web site that looks a little dodgy, will you feel confident enough to submit your credit card information in such a case? Making purchases online is all about confidence; a customer must feel assured that you are a reputable company, and the best way to project that image is through a well-designed Web site.
3.Set up a real-time payment gateway.
Don't even think about accepting credit card payments online unless you have a secure merchant gateway to a bank. With the threat of hackers being so prevalent on the Web, you should never store any credit card details. Let me repeat this point — never store credit card details — the risk is too great. Besides, the benefit of real time payment gateways ensure receipt of your money straight away, and more people will be willing to purchase online if you have the capabilityto charge their card(s) at the point of purchase.
4.Don’t fall into the price trap.
Keep prices competitive, but concentrate on the value-added products and services. For example, offer next business day delivery since most people who shop online are strapped for time. Nothing impresses busy people more than having their goods delivered quickly. Also, why not throw in some complimentary items? You’d be surprised how much people appreciate a gift with their purchase, even if it's just a chocolate mint.
5. Keep customers informed.
A quality newsletter keeps your business fresh in the minds of your customers, but don’t overdo it. The key is to send out newsletters only when you have something important to say or to offer your customers.
6.Viral marketing is key.
This should be your primary marketing objective. People often spend thousands of dollars trying to promote their business through online advertising campaigns but forget the most important facet of a good marketing plan — the customer. You'll receive more business through word-of-mouth than any other advertising medium. You must get people talking positively about your business.
7. Employ affiliates to promote your Web site.
This is especially important when trying to promote online shops, since most e-commerce Web sites are dynamic (database driven). Why? Well it comes down to how search engines index your Web site. Despite modern techniques, Google, Yahoo and other search engines have difficulties adding dynamic Web pages to their index. Hence, getting found on the Web can be difficult. A good affiliate can direct traffic to your Web site for a small commission should a sale be made.
8. Keep inventory levels to a minimum.
This applies not only to online business, but to brick-and-mortar operations also. Excess inventory ties up cash and reduces business efficiency. The trick is to improve your supply chain so that inventory can be replenished quickly. There's always a trade-off between offering your customers everything and not making them wait for out-of-stock items. If in doubt, stock up on your main sellers and have a clause about availability for slow selling items (keep in mind point four above, regarding fast delivery).
9. Provide customer testimonials.
But don’t fake it — nothing turns off customers quicker than hearing how you are the best thing since sliced bread. Keep it real and only post believable testimonials.
10. Don’t wait.
Seriously, this is paramount. The Internet is evolving at a rapid pace. Obtaining a Web presence is essential, and few realize that the window of opportunity is decreasing quickly. I've seen it firsthand, those businesses that were making huge profit margins a few years ago, are beginning to see the market flatten out with increased competition. There's still the potential to make a lot of money through e-commerce, but now is the time to act.
John Greenfield has more than 12 years experience in Internet-related business specializing in e-commerce and online business strategies.
Adapted from webreference.com.