What’s Your “Net” Worth?

by Bruce W. Hall

Let’s face it, an enormous power shift is occurring. Competition has intensified. Comparison-shopping and selection in the e-commerce community now provides consumers with relevant information at an unprecedented scale. In this frictionless marketplace, one can find absolutely anything desired, without ever having to leave the comfort of home.

The level of products, services, and expertise available online is something so enormous and irresistible that sometimes it’s easy for customers to forget what they once knew about shopping locally. The problem only intensifies with the classic “word-of-mouth” scenario when all one has to do is “click here” to share the experience with others.

In spite of this growing competition, what small business owner has the time, money, or inclination to seriously look at integrating an online presence with their existing brick-and-mortar store? There are so many separate elements to an e-commerce strategy that require attention, not the least of which is professional website development and maintenance, that it’s almost like having a dual career. Yet, who can afford to avoid participating?

For many small business owners, e-commerce can be intimidating?a vast, unfamiliar landscape inhabited mostly by geeks and nerds. Others think it simply doesn’t work, which may be true under certain circumstances. Studies show common mistakes usually lead to that conclusion. For example, thinking an e-commerce website is inexpensive to set up or that once it’s up and running, updates are unnecessary.

However complicated or foreign e-commerce may appear to you, in reality it’s all about using the Internet to help market your business faster, easier, and more efficiently. The closer you look, the more you realize that, with few exceptions, click-and-mortar is not much different from brick-and-mortar. With both you need a product to sell or a service to offer. You still have to find a way to attract customers. Finally, you also have to develop a marketing strategy.

Marketing has always been about getting your business into circulation and staying there. Most likely, you have already used flyers, direct mail, telephone, and newspaper advertising to deliver your message. This still holds true, but not as much. The Internet is a reasonable alternative, allowing you to reach more people, in less time, with greater frequency. In fact, for virtual pennies, customers and potential customers will have access to information about your business 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For some merchants, a full online presence has meant the difference between success and failure. Others use it simply to develop a database from which to encourage customer feedback, or to present interactive informational tools like photos, audio and/or video presentations, podcasts, and blogs to announce sales, new products or services. Whatever your specific needs might be, the concept of e-business is about giving customers and potential customers greater access to your products or services.

You might view e-commerce as a tool kit with extraordinary economic potential, with an influence that radiates into every aspect of consumerism. It can engage and empower your business. It can reshape the way customers think about you. It can create previously unimagined financial opportunities.

The choice is yours. If you leave e-commerce alone, it just sits there, waiting until you decide what you want to do with it. However, every day more and more of your competitors use the Internet to research and collect data, organize information, target specific markets and make their connection to customers and potential customers, like yours.

Copyright © 2009, by Bruce W. Hall. All rights reserved.

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