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What do increasingly more owners of small and medium businesses know about having a Web presence? Enough to know that they need one.
According to a 2000 survey, only 55 percent of small business owners found having a website to be cost-effective. Their optimism showed, however — 65 percent considered the Internet important to the future of their business.
Those 65 percent were right. In a 2005 survey, almost 86 percent of respondents said that their websites were cost-effective. Almost all participants — 94.7 percent –considered their websites useful in contributing to their business’s development.
Website and web hosting costs have decreased since the first survey was done. During the same time, more people have come online. The future of e-commerce has arrived.
How e-commerce has affected small and medium businesses
The age of online information
In growing numbers, consumers use the Web to research and order purchases. Even purchases made offline are often the result of decisions made online. Having information online makes comparison shopping much easier than going from store to store. With the next supplier only a click or two away, online consumers comparison-shop a lot.
Websites provide space for detailed product and service descriptions, comparisons, photos, price options, and reviews. Information can be updated in a few minutes for the world to see. Since businesses without a website aren’t included in the online research and selection process, they lose potential customers. They also lack the opportunity to promote changes to their product or service offerings to the world immediately.
The safety and convenience of ordering online
When e-commerce was new, the public didn’t have confidence in it. Was it safe to enter credit card numbers as long as the lock symbol appeared in the corner of the screen? Could goods and services be ordered with the same expectations as when ordering offline? People came to realize that as long as precautions are taken, the answer was yes. Convenience won over, and businesses with websites reaped the rewards.
The global marketplace
The ability to sell globally was once reserved mainly for large corporations. Now, businesses of all sizes can have websites and can serve people in different countries. Your competition might not be just in your city or town any more — potential customers may buy from a source thousands of miles away instead of from you. But if your business is online, you aren’t limited either. You can serve customers from anywhere.
The global marketplace has led to more specialized services and products. A worldwide audience increases the pool of possible customers for specialty items.
The cost and ease of setting up a website
A custom-designed website isn’t in everyone’s budget. However, website builders such as Site Studio have made websites affordable for almost all business owners. Because no special knowledge is required, anyone can set up a site and enter and update content themselves. E-commerce is not just for businesses with big budgets any more.
The tracking and advertising options
Website tracking tools allow you to see exactly which keywords or links brought visitors to your site, what pages they visited, and how long they spent on each page. You can also find out what keywords are attracting people to other sites. You can use this knowledge to fine-tune and update what you offer.
Online businesses can advertise online with ads containing links to their sites. The path from advertisements to customer visits is shorter when customers just need to click on a link and don’t need to drive to your store. The possible advertising spots range from eBay to directories.
The customer service factor
When businesses are reachable by email, they can provide service online faster than in a bricks-and-mortar store. Customers can have their questions answered without having to go to the place of business in person or make phone calls and possibly be put on hold. Also, the shorter chain of command compared to larger businesses means that questions can often be answered more quickly.
How to make your business grow online
A website is the starting point of e-commerce. If you already have a bricks-and-mortar store, think of your website as a second store location, one that people anywhere can visit. Follow these steps to help your business grow:
Website content and maintenance
Check that your website is free of errors in content and functionality, such as broken links.
Provide content that’s more than an online brochure. Have detailed product and service descriptions, reviews, comparison charts, answers to common questions, and clear pricing.
Give your customers fast, courteous, and helpful service. They’ll remember it.
Keep your website and business name in front of your customers by having an opt-in mailing list. Send out a regular newsletter and special offers.
Promote your site online and offline. Use a range of marketing methods.
Study the competition. What keywords are they using? What new developments are there in your field? Update and add to your content often, and be the first to offer a new product when you can.