When choosing a Content Management system or a shopping cart for your web site it is usually a good idea to ask yourself – what is the problem you are trying to solve?
Choosing the right CMS (Content Management System) is very hard. Most people (as noticed on quite a few message boards) make same mistake – they try to figure out what software they need to make money online. “I want to create a community, what software do I need?”. First of all – what kind of community is it going to be? Writers? Photographers? Make-up artists? Everyone has different requirements, and different level of knowledge. Photographers are a little easier to please, as they are used to complicated and cumbersome camera controls, but try to cater same interface to a community of models and make-up artists (same industry, after all) and you will be hit with an outcry for mercy.
Choosing a shopping cart is just one notch easier. First – customers already knows that he wants a shopping cart solution. Second – he is aware that whatever choice he makes is going to affect him in the future. Uploading or entering inventory is a time consuming task and not many people have time to experiment with that. But the ultimate question remains the same – what kind of problem the customer has? What is he/she selling and in which quantities?
There are customers who’s only reasonable solution would be an eBay. Some people can use quick shopping cart options, like PayPal’s shopping cart or BuyNow buttons, or even CafePress. Some could benefit from ZenCart, osCommerce, VirtueMart or peers. Sometimes company grows out of bunch of Excel spreadsheet and starts using CRM, sales and inventory tracking systems, such as RegKeeper, some flavor of QuickBooks, Configure One’s electronic catalog software or other platforms. Certain clients order a custom web site with integrated CMS and shopping cart.
Using full-blown shopping system if you only need to sell two flavors of your widget is unwise. Using PayPal for web store with thousands of clients may cost you significant percentage of your business. Each tool has its own (limited) scope of use. Management 101: Before offering a service – think: what is the problem the service is going to solve? If you have the answer to this question – you will find tools in no time.
Don’t be afraid of competition. Whatever you do (or decide to do) – there always will be a competition. Think of the ways you can do better then competition. Target market niches, provide more information then competitors, stand out. If you sell what everyone else sells (like knock-offs, replicas and such) – be one step ahead, write reviews, describe why people buy knock-offs, why yours are better then a shop next door. Build a social web around your store.
Don’t forget to follow-up. This way your customer will know that you are serious seller, even if you sell one dollar widgets. Sending e-mail is as inexpensive as it could be. Even follow-up e-mails can be automated (schedule sending of an e-mail in your e-commerce system to your customers, 7 days upon successful finalizing of the order).
Don’t force your customer to register in order to check-out. Always offer a no-registration check-out option. You still be able to collect all the information about a customer you need, but you will save them a minute or two during checkout process and (this is more important) save them a hassle of remembering their password next time they are at your virtual door. They will register once they realize they return often enough.
Don’t be afraid of Google, Yahoo and anyone else. It has been said numerous times – don’t think about search engines, think of your target audience. If you are in the business of selling widgets – write couple of good reviews on latest widgets, provide decent photos, build a reputation of a vendor who knows its widgets and not just sells stuff. Google likes good content as do your customers. One of major reasons why people prefer to shop at Amazon and NewEgg – is because they can read reviews (including those of customers) and see lots of pictures. Create web site that will be convenient to use and you will get ahead of your competition.
Don’t overwhelm your customers with all the current promotions and e-mails. Maintain a database of how many times you have e-mailed each customer. Try this trick: if you have sent out around seven promotions and a certain customer never visited any links from those e-mails – generate another e-mail that will ask the customer if he/she wants to unsubscribe from future e-mails. Unsubscribe automatically if no response is given. Chances are high that all your promotional correspondence ends up in Spam bin, so there is no reason to overload your servers or pay for e-mail delivery for this customer. On the other hand – it may alert customer and enact him/her to actually confirm subscription and look closer to your deals.
Any entrepreneur get to deal with many leads. However, not all the leads become clients. Part of that non-converting crowd are people who choose hosted shopping cart software. The reasons why we should like those people are numerous, but I am going to list just one of them.
Reason 1: If they didn’t accept our services they can still spread the word. People have very different needs. One person could be happy with hosted shopping cart. Another would need a full-featured web store front. Some will need clustered server farm. So even if we suggested some third-party off-the shelf e-commerce solution – we still on good terms with our lead.
Reason 2: With most of third-party solutions customer may need unique design. This one is too obvious to complain about. No matter how good the solution is – people will have natural urge to tweak it to their heart’s content. While a customer is able to upload inventory from Excel file and couple of images, tweaking style sheets and design may get too complicated. It is boring, too.
Reason 3: Any off-the-shelf or hosted e-commerce solution have its limitations. While being useful and user-friendly, it falls short when you really need to grow. When hosting lots of pictures, like sample or product images, or when electronically delivering your products, like eBooks or downloads, then server load and bandwidth will become issues with your hosted solution provider. You will fall back to people who can build a custom solution for your business. People who you already know.
Reason 4: There is a steep learning curve at the beginning of using any software. When you just starting everything seems unusual and complicated. Once you familiarize yourself with the software of your choice – you’re the king of the hill. When you come to someone to design and develop your custom-fit business solution you already know what you want! The design and development guys spend tremendous time determining what is it that client wants. People with experience are a great gift, like a second free customer. What could be better?
Overall, the idea of hosted shopping cart or online web page creation tool or whatever else is there is very productive for consumers, solution providers and web design guys. Consumers acquire knowledge and understanding of what they want. Solution providers acquire a stream of customers. Web design guys acquire educated customers. Everybody wins!
Running your company’s web site doesn’t really require .com domain. It almost don’t matter what business you are in. However, for marketing purposes, .com domain is almost a necessity, since most people are so much used to all domain names ending in .com. If you are running del.icio.us, it is whole another story and you wouldn’t need an advice in such a case.
Owners of web sites within .us, .biz, .info, and other domain zones are just marketing their web sites differently. Take a look at New York’s Transit Authority’s web site – mta.info. Very easy to remember and almost everyone in New York with access to a computer does.
The alleged problem with uncommon domain zones is that not everyone knows they exist. They are also just a tad harder to remember. In the early days of .biz and .info domain names in these zones were offered at a huge discount, sometimes even for free. A lot of fraudsters, scam artists and spammers have grabbed nice looking domains in those zones which led to the common perception of these domains as “knock-offs”, “fakes” or businesses in third-world countries that shouldn’t be trusted. Currently it’s not exactly true, but that’s what we usually hear from prospective clients when choosing domain name for their web sites. Sometimes this myth prevents a very successful marketing campaign from starting – because this myth can actually damage the reputation of promoted brand.
Domain name in a .com zone is a must if you are running E-commerce web site. Same approach is suggested if you are running web hosting business. There are a lot of after market names you can buy for a very low price. If that’s too expensive – your business model must be wrong.