Great Ideas for your Small Business: Sell Products Online
After some internet security–related cold feet, consumers seem to have become more comfort- able shopping online, so it’s time to figure out if you, too, should be selling via the World Wide Web. The Commerce Department reported in November 2001 that e-commerce sales continued to grow at an average rate of 6 percent each quarter but represented only about 1 percent of total retailing in the United States in 2000.
Shoppers gravitated toward trusted names; the seasoned catalogue companies and established brick-and-mortar retailers dominated e-commerce, representing 75 percent of online sales in 2000, according to Nielsen/NetRatings in New York. Is there still room for a small business in e-commerce? Yes, especially if you are focused on exploiting a niche, pay particular attention to the convenience and security concerns of online shoppers, and create a customer- friendly website.
One way to make your site inviting is to include full color photographs of your products, along with well-written sales copy, detailed descriptions, prices, and shipping information.
This is what customers will base their purchases on, so you want to be informative. Consider featuring detailed written testimonials from happy clients and customers. Everyone wants to be reassured that they are shopping or eating at a popular place—just think of the local restaurant that posts autographed photos of famous celebrities who frequent the eatery.
Be sure to include all the contact information customers need to pick up the phone to place an order if they’re not comfortable with online transactions. Savvy Webpreneurs tell me that it’s important to offer a variety of payment options so you don’t scare customers away. Although financial transactions over the Net are usually secure, there have been some problems. But if you’ve ever ordered things over the phone, you know that there are hassles with catalog shopping as well.
To assure your customers’ security, make the telephone number and address of your business a prominent feature of your site. Your customers will feel they’re dealing with a merchant they can talk to, if need be. They may want more information about a particular product or shipping option.
Mossberry Hollow Natural Care Products in Edmonton, Canada, also posts the Web address of the company that processes credit card sales on its site. If doing commerce in the United States, you must post policies for refunding money or exchanging damaged or unsatisfactory products.
Make sure all your back-end systems are functioning perfectly. In the early days of online shopping, nearly 80 percent of customers failed to complete transactions due to technical problems. Those high failure rates soured people who were trying to save time by shopping online. Test and retest your online shopping function before your site goes live and continue to check it every single day.
Consider offering online-only specials, the way the air- lines offer special discounts to customers who book their own tickets online. Look into online coupons and coupons that customers can print out and use in a brick and mortar store. And, be cautious about investing heavily in inventory.
Make sure people want to buy what you have to sell!
Here are some things to consider before offering products online:
- Do your clients or customers use the Internet? If they don’t, it’s not worth setting up shop online.
- Can you display your wares through simple photographs or illustrations?
- Can you provide enough product information online for people to make an intelligent buying decision?
- Is your fulfillment process in place? Do you accept credit cards?
- Do you have someone on your staff who is Web-savvy and can process online orders?
- Can you test-market your products on someone else’s site before investing in your own? If you answered “yes” to at least four of the questions, it’s worth looking into online sales.