Picking a Web Design Company That’s The Right Fit

As a retailer, you already know the importance of having a Web site. Maybe you already have one. Some retailers I talk to agree that they should “have a Web presence” but have not yet taken their e-commerce business seriously enough to take it to the next level. However, there is a change coming in the economic climate, and retailers who don’t invest in their Internet business are headed for a rough time.

Here are some quick facts to be aware of:

Many retail stores are forecasting lower sales in their brick and mortar establishments for 2008.
However, the National Retail Federation just published a forecast for e-commerce sales in 2008. They is up 17%, growing that sector to a little more than $204 billion.
Nielsen Media Research (the company that measures what people watch on TV) predicts that in two years advertising dollars spent on the Internet will exceed advertising dollars spent on television. It is actively restructuring its company to measure the Internet.
In addition, there are tons of consumer surveys that tell us that consumers prefer to look online first before they go to a store. They expect a store’s Web site to offer the same products as the store and in some cases even more.
Surveys also show that customers who purchase on the Web are more loyal. When they find a site they like to buy from, they visit it often and make repeat purchases at regular intervals.
What You Can Do About It

Okay, so we know the demand is there. Now, how do you prepare for it? How can you set up your retail business to win on the Internet? For many, this is a scary proposition. There are lots of horror stories out there about failed Internet businesses, runaway expenses, and confusing techno-speak that have many retailers thinking that they can never succeed online.

While there are no guarantees that your Internet retail business will succeed, the odds are more in your favor than you think. Typically the initial investment can be small, and there are more resources available to you today than ever before. It is no longer difficult to link your Web site to your point-of-sale system, and aside from a few start-up costs, you can be in business relatively quickly.

Before the Nuts and Bolts: Getting the Right Mind-set

Before I launch into the exact steps that you would take to set up your retail business properly on the Internet, let me make sure I prepare you for the road ahead. Opening a store on the Internet has some similarities to opening another brick-and-mortar store.

It’s true that you don’t pay rent for an Internet retail business. Nor do you pay for fixtures, utilities, or any other physical elements that you had to buy when you put your brick-and-mortar store there. Further, when you first open your Internet retail business, you don’t need to buy more inventory (until things take off) and while there is some personnel expense (Web designers, integrators, and possibly marketers), it’s not as costly as hiring store managers, sales staff, cashiers, and stock personnel.

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There are two areas that you will have to be prepared to invest in. The first is the creation of the Web site. Your Web site has to be professionally designed and must contain vital features to interest your customers. These features are discussed in detail below. Your Web site’s look and construction are direct reflections of your store name and personality. Just as you took time to perfect your brick-and-mortar store’s looks, you must do the same for your Internet retail store. Take the time to establish the right color scheme, layout, photography, and presentation of the site.

The second area that you will have to invest in is advertising. Be prepared to spend far more on advertising on the Internet than you do for your brick-and-mortar store. At first, this makes many retailers roll their eyes and not want to proceed, but keep in mind that your total expenses for an Internet retail business should be far less than a brick-and- mortar store. As such, although the advertising can be costly, the benefits should outweigh this.

There is one last thing to consider before we get into the actual steps of getting your retail business online. Some portion of your expenses in creating the Web site should be attributed to your brick-and-mortar store. Research now confirms that many customers will go to your site, look around, and if pleased will then visit your store. You will therefore make sales at the brick-and-mortar store based upon the visit to the Web site. This can be difficult to quantify, but it must be considered. Asking customers, “How did you hear about us?” or “What made you come in today?” may help you quantify the effect of the Web site on brick-and-mortar sales.