Looking Into Winning E-Commerce Strategies
When it gets right down to it, what you really want to know is how you can make sure your business succeeds at e-commerce. Getting the e-commerce end of your business off the ground isn't a walk in the park, but it's also not as difficult as you may think — as long as you're using your head.
Test for success
Internet customers are fickle critters. If they get a glimpse of your site before it's totally ready for prime time, they may decide that you don't know what you're doing and never come back. Don't put new pages, new features, new navigation tools — new anything — live on your site until you've tested it again and again. Test it yourself and get your dad and your sister to test it. You'll still find problems, of course, when the public gets its hands on it, but you hope those problems will be sporadic.
No bricks-and-mortar anchor store is generating traffic for you on the Internet. If you want your e-commerce business to become a success, your site has to become a destination, a virtual place where people come for specific reasons. You have to hook your customers; give them reasons to keep coming back to your site repeatedly.
Use advertising, loyalty programs, value-added material (such as an online magazine), and other tricks to reel'em in and keep'em. If you come up with a strong value proposition and flaunt it with your marketing, you will attract and retain customers.
Making your business a household name
Businesses need a lot of care and feeding when they're young, and e-commerce businesses are no exception (even new e-commerce ventures created by 100-year-old companies). You need to build an engaging site that customers want to shop at again and again. Most importantly, you need to build a name that customers recognize.
To build a name, you have to create a strategic marketing plan, which means you have to spend money. However, a marketing plan doesn't mean a whole lot if you put yourself out of business in the process of creating it.
Be careful — people may like you!
Make sure that you build your business — and that's the whole business, not just your Web site — to handle your success. Not only do you need to buy servers and software, but you also may need to develop your shipping department, your accounting systems, and your order processes.
Consider working in phases. Plan to reach a lofty goal, but implement only what you can handle. Here are some tips to help you grow incrementally:
- Lease and don't buy until you can afford it.
- Use e-service providers' inventory and Internet services until you can build your own.
- Promise only what you can deliver and deliver everything you promise.
- Buy what you can now and build the business so that you can easily add more to it later. Moreover, be prepared to add it quickly.
- Make sure that your distributors and other business partners know how successful you plan to be, and make sure that their businesses can handle the load you plan to dump on them.
Calculate Internet time
Get used to thinking in Internet time. If something goes wrong, calculate how much time you think it will take to fix it. Okay, now divide that number by five to see how much Internet time you have. Because things can change so rapidly on the Internet, you need to keep ahead of the curve in a wide variety of areas:
- Keep ahead of what your competitors are doing and how they use the Internet to challenge your market position.
- Stay on top of new technologies that can help your Web site work more effectively or that can give your organization a market edge.
- Continuously look for new areas of process improvement and ways to use your Internet investment to lower costs and increase profits.
- Watch for emerging standards that can help you connect to and cooperate with new customers or improve relationships with existing customers in your supply chain.
- Keep the site fresh and interesting so customers keep coming back.
Get to know your neighbors (and their neighbors, too)
Your neighbors, of course, are the other businesses in the supply chain. You buy your stuff from somebody, who buys the stuff from somebody else, and so on, and so on. It's not enough to just check with your distributor to make sure that he can ship fast enough to keep you supplied with enough products to meet your anticipated sales volume. You should find out about the company he buys from, too. Can his supplier meet your demands? What about the supplier's supplier? And the manufacturer?
Here are some simple indicators:
- Look at lead times. If things are stretching out, a reason exists, and you need to know what it is.
- If prices plummet, find out why. No one has a fire sale without a fire.
- If one of your partners is missing scheduled deliveries, or if its customers are looking for new vendors, you found smoke. Ask for references from several existing customers and discover if they are satisfied customers.
- Find out how long partners' employees have been with the company, especially senior management. Unstable workforces usually translate into unstable businesses.
Use the Internet to save money, too
At its heart, e-commerce is about using the Internet to make money. However, don't forget about the ways e-commerce technologies can save your business cash, too. After all, saving money is almost the same thing as actually earning it. Here are some ideas to make the Internet work for your whole business:
- Use Internet-based e-mail systems to reduce or eliminate the need to maintain your own e-mail system.
- Reduce travel costs with videoconferencing.
- Reduce HR costs by replacing paper forms with HTML forms that talk right to your databases.
- Get into B2B (business-to-business) e-commerce to procure business supplies.
- Use online auctions to purchase office furniture for lots less than retail.