Using the Internet is crucial to the well-being of just about any business, and that will be proven again during the final quarter of the year.
I have written before about the value of using the Internet to further your business goals, and that is going to ring especially true during this final quarter of the year.
Some of you will be skeptical since I work for a company that makes its money from people going online. That, however, does not make the point any less valid. Sometimes, the numbers speak loudest:
- The US Commerce Department says that, last quarter, online sales posted their highest increase in three years
- Forrester Research and Shop.org predict that web sales will go up by 22% this year
- Digital cash registers will ring to the tune of more than $170-billion this year
?That?s just great, Alex,? you say. ?But my clientele is local; the Internet is for people who want things that are not available here.? There is some validity to that argument, but it is an incomplete answer. Pick a business and there is an online application that will help in some way. Take food delivery, for instance, not an enterprise typically noted for using the Internet. Would it help your eatery if hungry diners could go to your web site and see an online menu instead of calling so your staff can walk them through the options? What if they could email an order? What if they could also pay by credit card? All of this without your workers having to break stride, without the risk of someone?s bad phone manners chasing away business, and without the possibility of a customer being stuck on hold.
This scenario can be extended to almost any other industry, especially the ones that, at first glance, seem poorly suited to the Web, such as service-based companies. For example, a homeowner who needs an exterminator or wants lawn care will have dozens of options. It is not likely that this consumer will contact each service provider, so your business may be eliminated before it even has a chance to be considered.
Simply going online is no guarantee that consumers will find you, but increasingly, people turn to the Internet when looking for services of all types, even services that are available locally. Let?s say the homeowner mentioned above types ?pest control, my city? or ?lawn care services my community? into a search engine. If you have a website, it should come up in the results. Prospects can see what you offer, compare your services versus the competition, even fill out an online form with contact information. The salesperson in each of you will see that a lead, and a good one at that. The website didn?t close the deal, but it did open the door.
Still, you?re not convinced. Business has been good and local customers already know how to find you and are familiar with the product line. Does that mean you don't want more business? And, how do newcomers to town learn about you? Let?s take that a step further; is your product limited to a locale clientele? The food delivery and homeowner examples above are, by nature, going to be geographically restricted. But, what if the food company carries certain spices, sauces, or marinades? What if the exterminator sells pest control products? What if the lawn care company also carries a line of fertilizers or herbicides?
Anthony Jordan is a plumbing contractor in South Carolina, but has regular customers in the Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and West Coast. Obviously, those customers don't expect Jordan to make house calls, but when looking for drain cleaners and related products, they go online and that?s where they find Jordan. Online sales are not the biggest portion of Jordan?s business, but they are sales he would not otherwise make.
If there is a ?but? in this, it?s that designing and marketing a website takes time and money. Customers won?t show up just because your website was built. Whether it?s through paid advertising or including your web address on letterheads, business cards, and all other printed materials, you have to get the word out. You also have to do it consistently because the Internet is a crowded marketplace. Then again, isn?t that where your business should be? As the famed philosopher Yogi Berra once said in describing a restaurant, ?Nobody goes there anymore because it?s too crowded.? Think about that for a second.
The coming holiday season is likely to notch a new set of online sales records and if you don't already have a website, that spending will pass you by. That?s okay; the online business doesn?t end with holiday buying. The fact is that, with each passing month, people are spending more and more online. How many more months are you willing to let pass your business by?
About The Author
Alex Lekas is VP / Corporate Communications for AIT (www.ait.com), a web hosting company serving 191,468 business domains in 107 countries
This article was posted on October 08, 2005