04 February, 2011

While the fundamental difference between an e-business and a bricks and mortar one may be obvious, the different mindset needed to operate a virtual enterprise as an ongoing business may not.

E-business requires a completely different approach to sales, marketing, stock display, range and, perhaps most important of all, customer service.

Although you can cobble together your own website using software available though internet service providers or PC packages, going the extra step into e-business will inevitably require expert help.

Personal recommendation is often the best way of finding a website designer, but you should shop around just as you would for any other service as fees can vary immensely.

Get an idea of what prospective designers have done before and beware of gimmicks that could make your site expensive to set up, a pain to maintain and difficult to use.

Getting a package that competes with the best already on the market might be better than wandering into uncharted territory just because the designer wants to show how clever they are.

Ease of navigation is going to be the biggest benefit you can have on your site. Simple menus and well-ordered links should guide potential customers towards purchases rather than scare them away.

Because of the availability of the technology youíre using yourself, there will nearly always be someone else they can go to if they want to get the same products you have, so you need to stand out.

Use the full potential of the internet to source tasting notes and back-stories about products.

Make promotional stock a feature with its own pages, just as you would putting it on a floor stack or gondola end in the shop.

A blog section can add a bit of entertainment value and involve customers in the buying and selection process that goes into establishing your product range.

Capturing data allows you to build up an email list which you can use to send out newsletters and details about promotions, but donít cheese off people whoíve bought from you by sending them stuff they donít want Ė get them to fill in a tick box to accept.

Email can be an effective marketing tool. Itís cheap and good for ďword of mouthĒ as many customers will forward on offers to their friends and families.

You can make more effective use of your database by segmenting it according to products bought, location of customers or how much theyíve spent. This will enable you to target future promotions to the customers who are most likely to be interested in them.

While using your website to capture data about customers can enhance your marketing, donít make the payment process so complicated that people get bored and skim to the next on the Google list.

Once youíve got your site up and running, donít just sit back and watch it become out-of-date. To keep up with latest designs and software you should monitor constantly both your own and other companiesí websites, and undergo a formal review of design and content every year or so.

More frequent mini-updates of things like picture content and introduction pages keep it fresh and give customers an extra reason to keep coming back.

Assuming you already have a real shop, itís probably more cost-effective to extend your existing merchant account for card payments to include online sales, rather than outsource the website payment separately to a specialist online payment processing company.

As well as the practicalities of getting a web business up and running, youíll have to abide by government regulations on distance selling, which apply to conventional printed catalogue mail order business as well as the internet.

More details of these can be found at the Office of Fair Trading website, oft.gov.uk.

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