The tools of e-commerce can make almost every aspect of your business work better for you. E-mail means you can communicate better. Web access means you can discover more about suppliers, customers and competitors, and a website means you can trade on the net and access customers you never knew existed.
Reach out to new markets and serve existing ones more effectively. Lower costs and build closer business relationships with customers and suppliers.
Improve the way you develop products and streamline delivery of existing ones. Best of all, discover new opportunities to put business ideas into action, in quick, affordable ways that were impossible three to four years ago.
Between them, e-mail, the web and your company websites, open up a whole range of opportunities. You can communicate better, know more about your target customer groups, find new market openings and make substantial savings in the process.
E-mail allows you to send your marketing material to as many customers as you like, instantly, for the price of a local phone call. It allows you to keep in touch with customers and prospects and to tell them about your latest products and prices.
Businesses are often tempted to rely too much on the spoken word. A quick call to a supplier is easy, but when the subsequent delivery is incorrect and late you may regret such shortcuts.
Written evidence of the order prevents confusion and can save you from costly legal action. With none of the hassle and delay of writing, printing and posting or faxing a document, you can e-mail an order from your desk.
Supplier details need to be entered once, after which you click on the name to pull up an template, insert the message and send. When dealing with customers abroad, the advantages of e-mail are even greater. The written word can help in dealing with customers who may not speak good English, and help settle technical details (e.g. freight, insurance, letters of credit, customs and excise).
Web video conferencing allows you to speak face to face, without having to fly around the world.
Research & purchasing on the web
The web allows you to obtain information on almost anything. Monitor sites of your competitors, to identify threats and opportunities . Then check out the wealth of market research: business reports, specialist data, market analysis and much more. Institute and trade association sites may be a useful starting point.
For prospective purchasers the internet offers an incredibly wide selection, including suppliers abroad, but you can get a good idea about suppliers from information on their website. You may even find details of the sales team you would be dealing with.
A professionally run supplier will usually have a professionally run website, without the glaring errors and out-of-date information that are the downfall of ill-thought-out sites. (On the other hand, the site’s size and sophistication may simply tell you how much money has been spent on it.) Many websites will allow you to place an order there and then.
Even if you have no intention of changing suppliers, it pays to find out what others offer, as you can then negotiate better terms for your subsequent purchases.
The web is global, so it can provide a rich source of export leads for businesses of all sizes. Information on customers, products and competitors is available for most countries, and research can help you identify opportunities and threats in existing and emerging markets. Search engines have been created specifically to help UK exporters.
Your own websiteP> A website is like having a stand in a global exhibition, for 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Unlike the situation with a mailshot, which is sent unsolicited, visitors to your website have chosen to come to you.
You get a self-selecting group of people who are interested in what you offer.
Depending on how you set up your site, you can build up valuable marketing information from hits generated. You can see what people are interested in, you can collect details about visitors (using registration forms and cookies) and you can use actual feedback forms.
Of course, you have to attract visitors in the first place, and you have to make your pages ‘sticky’, giving visitors reasons to spend time on your website and keep coming back.
As well as playing a key marketing role, taking orders through your site is simple. It can simply involve a customer visiting your website, deciding what to order, then phoning to give you order details and perhaps a credit card number.
A more sophisticated process is to allow the visitor to fill in an online order form, which is automatically e-mailed to you. You then call the customer back to complete the ordering process. If transaction volumes warrant it, you should provide secure ordering facilities for credit card purchases on your website.
With e-commerce facilities, such as a ‘shopping cart’ function, overseas customers can compile and submit orders, which you can confirm by e-mail.
With a merchant agreement with a bank or credit card company, you can accept authorised payments by credit or charge card, though overseas customers will be keen to see evidence of security controls to safeguard card details.
A Frequently Asked Questions section can make purchasing easier and save you time and money.
Make your established customers feel looked after, by giving them a password to a secure part of your website where confidential information such as stock levels, lead times and ‘privileged special offers’ is kept.
This will help you to build long-term relationships, bringing your customers back time and again.
- Establish the basic tools needed to set up a connection are available and take advice on what additional systems, if any, should be purchased
- Research the exact service requirements expected from an internet presence and shop around for the best way in which to achieve them
- Identify realistic budgets and make them clear to third-parties
- Ensure any new systems adopted or bought are capable of supporting business expansion. The need to replace systems should be avoided
- Adopt a suitable domain name that will be easily recognisable.
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