Saturday, August 29, 2009

You Have to Have a Website

In today's business climate you HAVE to have a website. It is a minimum requirement of doing business.

Over 70% of all households have Internet access. That number grows even higher at higher incomes and lower ages. According to a Pew Report study, shopping is one of the top uses for both men and women.

The key word is "shopping". According to Merriam-Webster, shopping is defined as, "to examine goods or services with intent to buy". The wealth of information on the Internet makes examining goods or services easier than it has ever been.

From this data many of you might make the false assumption that you have to offer e-commerce on your website, that you have to join the throngs of online merchants. Although you certainly can be successful selling online, here's another statistic to make you think.

According to the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, online sales in 2008 were a whopping 3.3% of all retail sales. Yes, that's right. Only $3 out of every $100 spent at retail were spent online. I guess the demise of the brick and mortar store might be slightly overblown.

Here's the point. Over 60% of Americans are shopping online, but only 3% are buying online. So how are they using the Internet to do their shopping? They shop online four main ways.
  1. To see what is available
  2. To find information about features and benefits
  3. To read reviews from other users and experts
  4. To find stores that carry what they want
Yeah, the first three are pretty much the same stuff they could get just by entering your store and asking your staff (if they found you with #4). But they are doing it online for a number of reasons.
  • The Internet has more information than most sales people
  • The Internet is open when your store is not
  • You can surf the Internet anonymously (in your pajamas)
  • You don't have to show your ignorance
Those last two points are important. According to the Pew Report above, men are more aggressive shoppers online, which only makes sense. Men do not like to admit they don't know something. They don't like to ask questions. They certainly won't ask for directions. The Internet allows them to get all the info they need before entering a store so they do not feel inferior. Another group that prefers the anonymous aspect of Internet shopping are Introverts. They also like to get all the information they can before they have to interact with someone.

Men and introverts - two groups that collectively make up 75% of the population - give you all the reasons necessary for you to have a website. Think of your website as the Silent Salesman for your store. He costs a fraction of the other staff, yet he works tirelessly 24/7 building trust and goodwill and making customers more comfortable with your business. And he gets to embody all the qualities of your best salesman because you get to create him.

You have to have a website and you have to have the following components:
  • Your hours, location and contact information - make it easy to find, many people are using the Internet as their yellow pages
  • Your purpose for being in business - what you do and why (from a customer's perspective) you do it better than everyone else
  • What customers should expect when they visit - products, services, policies, etc.
  • Pictures - the Internet is a visual medium
  • More information - keep the basic pages simple (everything on one screen), but offer more for those who wish to click on it
The key is to make your site pleasing to the eye with minimal but well-written copy that answers the questions potential customers would ask about your business. Make it interesting and always about what the customer will find or experience in your store. And keep it consistent with your Character Diamond.

You don't have to do e-commerce. You don't even have to show all your products. But you do have to make sure you are linked to all of your vendor's websites as a place to buy. And make sure at the very least you talk about what product categories you do offer. List the best known brands and let them advertise for you. The goal is to give enough information to make potential customers interested, comfortable and willing to do business with you.

In today's business climate you have to have a website. Do you agree or disagree?

-Phil

PS If you're doing e-commerce, I highly recommend you read the book Call to Action by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg. It will help you convert more lookers into buyers.

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