Sunday, October 08, 2006

Do You Have an eCommerce Plan?

What is Your eCommerce Plan?
You remember the Dot Com craze and subsequent crash right? The internet was growing by leaps and bounds. Excitement loomed everywhere about building your own .com and making millions. Young techies without a business bone in their bodies were suddently becoming rich on illusions. This wild exuberance could not last forever. And it didn't.

But the internet and ecommerce didn't come crashing down. Here's a list of some e-businesses you might recognize and when they were founded.

Look at the list and see if you notice the pattern:

Monster, founded in 1999
PayPal, founded in 1998
Netflix, founded in 1997
Snapfish, founded in 1999
Hoovers Online, founded in 1994
Salesforce, founded in 1999
Bluefly, founded in 1998
Expedia, founded in 1995 and spun off in 1996
Travelocity, founded in 1996
Yahoo, founded in 1994
EBay, founded in 1995
Google, founded in 1998

Do you see the pattern yet? - That's right! They were all founded in the 1990's. And they all continue to exist today. Why didn't they go the way of the .com bust? - because they all had solid business models build on providing value and service to their users.

And that should be the lesson for you, too, if you plan on entering the ecommerce landscape and building your own success story. Provide value and service to your users. Polish and go after a singular goal.

In the 21st Century Market, ecommerce continues to be a viable business solution for sales generation; but the key to success online is to give your visitors value and service and the sales will follow.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Your Online Store

As a consultant to small and medium sized businesses specializing in ecommerce solutions, I come accross this question most frequently: "How much is it going to cost me to manage a web store and sell online?"

I want to focus on this a bit here, because I think it's a viable question and because I'm never going to get away from this question - I can run, but I cannot hide. Well, the answer is: "It depends". Now I know you hate those kind of answers as well as I, but in this case it's not an avoidance of giving a straight answer - it REALLY DOES depend. Depend on what?

Well, here's where I pose a set of questions right back:

How many products do you want to sell online? (cost may depend on this)
How many customers can you support? (you must be able to handle your orders)
How would you like to advertise your webstore? (many options here)
Do you have back office functions such as customer and product databases?
Do you want a storefront with custom design or will just a shopping cart do.
And finally, would you like your business to be found easily through search engines including Google, Yahoo and MSN?

There are actually more questions I might ask depending on my potential client, but these are usually my top. Well, after asking these questions right back, my clients understand that the cost of ecommerce REALL DOES depend on their needs.

My suggestion to you if you're interested in going for it and opening your own webstore is answer these questions for yourself first - then call me. It helps that you would have had some time to simmer on it beforehand.

Ecommerce today is as much about marketing as presenting a good product and delivering what's promised. If you need help on getting started and would like to speak with me directly, I welcome your email at support@21stCenturyMarket.com or visit me on the web at www.21stCenturyMarket.com.

eCommerce in the US is a $130 billion dollar business today. The spending trend in online purchases continues to grow. Security has improved greatly and riding the wave are our faithful websurfers.

You can do it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Branding and Direct Response Marketing

The holiday season is just around the corner, and I can already see myself feverishly looking for just the right gift at just the right price.

Like a growing number of Americans, I begin my research online. I will do some comparison shopping using sites like PriceScan, NexTag , PriceGrabber, BizRate and others. During last holiday season, Forbes headline read: "As shoppers reject the malls for merchandise found on their brightly lit LCD’s, comparison-shopping Web sites have become white hot." (click for full article).

After I perform my research for deals, values and specials, then I'll go to specific sites like Sears or Target and look for very specific items. When located, I might buy online or find what I'm looking for and venture into the physical jungle to complete my purchase.

Web marketing today should appeal to both types of net shoppers. Those looking for specific brands and products who conduct their research online but may actually buy in the stores and malls, and those who are ready to buy now using the shopping cart - the direct response way.

As more consumers begin to trust the safety of e-commerce, and as more consumers become "connected" and as more consumers begin to find specials including free shipping, more ecommerce conversions will complete online; but a good web presence should not only focus on online buyers, but should also appeal to the researcher who buys in the store after finding just what she wanted online.

Will this years' shopping frenzy set records? Some believe so. Others believe not. So who does one believe? The point, really, is not what the masses do as a whole - that's an interesting government statistic that speaks to consumer confidence, spending habits and overal economic health - but rather how your shopping habbits might be different this shopping season from last.

How do you intend to shop this season? Please post a comment so we can get ideas from the public on this.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Retail Sales Rise as Oil Prices fall?

Latest news on oil production from Opec: Opec News
AP story "Retail Sales Rise Sharply in September"

Okay, I'm wondering if your spending habits have changed as a result of falling gas prices. I know mine haven't. I don't suddenly say, "Wow! I have all this money now that I'm not putting it in my tank. I think I'll go spend it on DVD's and clothes at Wal-Mart." Cmon. In the AP story above, it's cited that Wal-Mart which blamed lagging sales on gas prices at the pump, didn't benefit from lower prices at the pump in September. Hmmmm.

So this is interesting. Gas prices are blamed for lagging sales. Then gas prices fall and the sales lags remain for some, rise for others. Gap also continues to lag behind. Often located in malls, you'd think their sales would improve at the same rate as the mall as a whole due to falling gas prices. But they haven't.

This should be a lesson that there is much more below the surface regarding sales production. It's not tied to any one event.

The quality of the products.
The ease of shopping.
The crowdiness.
The friendly or unfriendly staff.
Product selection and overall value.
Location.

These are still the driving factors of retail success. Gas prices, though a contributor, in my opinion are given far too much credit or blame in our country today. An easy excuse to make for not meeting expected sales goals.

Okay, but what about the Ford, GM issues of large utility vehicles - well that IS tied directly to gas prices. Why, because owners of these monsters have been doing nothing but complaining about how much it costs them these days to fill their tank - $80, $100. Well, guess who they are affecting - would be buyers of the monsters. So, the would be buyers, scared off by how much it will cost to operate the beast, opt for smaller, more economical transportation. It makes sense.

But Opec, will come to the rescue. It'll cut production enough to keep the prices from falling too low. Then of course the president will be blamed for stagnant gas prices. We'll stop shopping becuase the prices stopped falling and retail giants will report lagging sales on high gas prices that have not fallen in some time.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Direct Mail Marketing

Well, it's time to check the mail again. I go to my mailbox and what do I find, piles of envelopes full of credit card offers. I regularly receive 10 or more offers a week! Most envelopes hint of nothing of the sort until they are opened. But I've mastered the art of holding the "annonymous" letters up to the light - then I see it: "0% for 6 months". Aha! You rat! IN the garbage you go - but only after I tear apart the address page.

If you're anything like me, you probably receive the same or nearly the same number of offers. Why do these companies insist on spending millions to direct market all over the contry this way? Well, bottom line is, IT MUST BE WORKING. Thousands or even millions of people strapped for cash might just decide it's time to accept one or more of these offers.

Direct mail marketing is still a viable business method if what is provided is something the consumer will want. It can be very expensive - obviously - but the return on investment might prove profitable.

The key to direct mail marketing is to present high rate conversion products to consumers. Coupons for local grocery stores, as credit card offers, do just that. Many see a coupon for "Buy one, get one FREE" and decide it's a good deal. They make the trip and complete the conversion by presenting their coupon. Again, the marketer MUST be profiting overall or the direct marketing campaign would not be viable and would be abandoned - or should be.

When email came about, spammers were on the loose. Only now, direct e-mail marketing was hugely inexpensive. So spamming became a problem that had to be dealt with or e-mail servers would fill faster than their ability to expand. E-mail accounts would be locked out due to space limits. Though anti-spamming netiquite has taken hold in the internet market landscape, e-marketers can still get their ads out by collecting lists of willing subscribers. Then these consumers can be targeted with as much "acceptable" spam as can be sent.

So, today and into the foreseeable future, direct marketing, both mail and e-mail, will continue to produce profits. Being in the marketing business, I peruse direct mail marketing all the time to see how businesses are collecting customers. But you may want to use the "annonymous" - hold the letter up to the light - method to save time.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Opportunities Abound

According to College Planning & Management: June, 2006 issue by Hill, Christopher; Tseckares, Charles, colleges are experiencing record enrollment. This leads to the following potential business opportunities:

Textbook sales, marketing and writing
Calculators, paper, bookbags, writing utensils should continue to be strong
Internet connectivity and computer sales should at least not see a decline
Transportation and off campus rental housing poses some income potential
Direct sales to campus students will show an increase in market visibility
Part time job opportunities for students

These and potentially other opportunities may lead to strong and viable businesses for the ambitious and creative. It is not simply the near-campus physical establishment that may attract student buyers; but with the growing internet activity many new buyers may purchase online as well. Nearly gone are the days when homework assignments are written down on a blackboard for students to copy. Today, many professors post homework assignments online. And the work, itself, may be completed and submitted entirely electronically.

Also, consider the effect of greater correspondence school growth given the technology around distance learning including tele and video conferencing, document sharing technology, community posts and as already stated homework sites. Technology support, training, websites, etc., may continue to see an uptrend around distance learning opportunities.

Education is taking a front seat as the No Child Left Behind Act came into effect. Today, many schools are graded according to the legislation passed during the Bush Administration. These requirements will provide opportunities for new and improved learning tools and techniques. New ways of approaching old problems may revolutionize the way students of all ages learn and think.

Overall, business trends around education are promising, and those who jump on the train today will have a front row seat.

Future Customer Base

A few things are indisputable where baby boomer retirees are concerned. For one, they are expected to live longer than previous generations and this leads to longer term expenses both medical and for everyday needs such as food, clothing, housing, utilities and such. Also, according to the US Census Beaureu, only about 41 percent of workers between the ages of 25 and 64 have any kind of retirement account, with balances of less than $33,000.

So with life expectancy being much longer today than a century ago, the need for longer term income is greater now than ever before. The threat of inflation and rising medical costs can severely cripple the long term retiree.

So businesses can capitalize on this growing trend by focusing on services to help retirees in need. This is a financial base that could potentially spell a win-win for both the businessman and the retiree. Both have needs, and working together creatively, both can be satisfied.

The trend here is that with the many retirees to come, businesses should take note and focus at least part of their business on serving them.