Electronic Commerce (eCommerce)
Four questions of communication were posed in our earlier examination of why and how the smaller business may want a presence on the Internet. And we have addressed with whom we want to communicate and how we want to communicate with them. We now turn to our third question, "What do we want to tell them?"
It has been noted that the sole purpose for being online is to deliver information to our viewers. And it is axiomatic that this information must "add value" that is recognized by the viewer. This information must be useful and important to the viewer. Earlier discussions have examined how we find our prospective customers and point them to our "store." However, after the critical initial visit, the prospective customer will have at least perused the "merchandise" and determined whether repeat visits in the future will be beneficial. Repeat customers are the foundation of virtually every enterprise.
Therefore, in this frenetic bazaar of "cyber-surfing," the prospective customer must recognize instantly the "added-value information" on display. This added value may be content, convenience and/or accessibility; it may be interactive product support. But the viewer must believe that this is a useful site, a worthwhile site to re-visit and, hopefully, will "bookmark" the URL for our site to facilitate re-visits in future. The dazzling technology may disguise the reality that the techniques of merchandising are age-old: The merchandise must be recognized to be of acceptable quality and good value, it must be displayed appealingly, and an actual purchasing transaction must be made as easy as possible. Merchants have understood for millennia that prospective customers are always looking for "What’s new?" An effective Web site will constantly refresh its offerings with "new" information thereby encouraging frequent re-visits.
Let’s look at some examples of effective Web sites. First, we will examine two well-known product/services that enjoy preeminent name recognition. The venerable Encyclopædia Britannica has made an exciting entry into online publishing. (With the drastic reduction of its traditional direct sales force, it appears to an outside observer that the voluminous printed encyclopædia may soon be found only in antiquarian bookstores.) As an established and recognized information resource, the Encyclopædia Britannica is now offered online by prepaid subscription only: $150 per year for a personal or family subscription. (A free trial is offered for seven days.) The "value added" to the user is a resource that is much easier and faster to use and cross-reference than the cumbersome printed volumes, a resource that is updated continually and does not have to await new printings, and economics that compare favorably with both the production and acquisition of the printed editions.
Dun & Bradstreet Information Services offers an online access service enabling millions of US companies in D&B’s database to be searched. A Business Background Report can be obtained online for a nominal fee. However, the full D&B credit reporting services are available by subscription only, but this can also be easily initiated online. And application can be made online for a company’s own D-U-N-S® Number -- D&B’s globally accepted business identifier.
Case studies of two smaller businesses with successful Web sites have been presented recently in The Business Forum Online®. "From the Renaissance to the Web" is a study of the von Huene Workshop, Inc., a world-renowned designer and manufacturer of Renaissance and Baroque recorders and transverse flutes. And "The Cottage in Cyberspace" visited Hard-to-Find Needlework Books, a bookseller specializing in in-print, out-of-print and rare books on needlepoint, knitting, crocheting, cross-stitch charts, sewing, fashion, weaving textiles, and ephemera.
Both of these case studies answer the question, "What do we want to tell them?" and demonstrates the importance of "value-added information." None of these businesses are "high-tech." A search of the Internet turns up each of these sites as a primary source for the product/services they offer. Each of these sites uses extensive traditional sign posts to point the prospective customer to the "store." Each of these sites offers a full catalog online that is continually updated thereby providing the most current product/service information available, literally anyplace in the world. The "merchandise" displayed on each of these sites is recognized to be of acceptable quality and good value, the displays are appealing, and an actual purchasing transaction is easily initiated. The prospective customer interested in these unique products/services is enriched by the visit and will want to re-visit these sites frequently.
Note: All of the Web sites discussed in this column can be readily accessed directly via The Business Forum Online®.
Online interactive communications and business development will be the continuing focus of subsequent columns.
Your comments and suggestions for these pages are most welcome!
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