Monique Powell, Gleaner Online Writer
Despite the prevalence of computers, and growth of Internet penetration to 40 per cent, it is not unusual to come across business owners who have not yet bought into the 'dot com' revolution.
Some see websites as little more than glorified electronic brochures that may not be of much use to their business, and have, therefore, put off setting up their own web presence.
However, the many ways in which a website may be used go far beyond simply displaying bits of static information online.
Here are three ways a website can be used to increase sales, collect consumer data, and improve relationships with customers.
1. BUILD COMMUNITY
This speaks to using online discussion forums, chat rooms, etc., to provide a virtual community where product users come together to interact.
Within these communities, customers can relay their experiences, provide suggestions, or exchange ideas with other persons who share similar interests.
Many companies, especially those catering to niche markets, have begun to realise the potential of such communities as it relates to fostering product and brand loyalty among customers.
These companies have already begun the process of transforming their websites into interactive hubs.
2. COLLECT MARKET DATA
In order to do this, a customer survey form would first need to be set up on the company website.
Various methods could then be used to drive traffic to that particular page.
One effective method involves placing an advertisement on a highly trafficked website which caters to your target market.
Clicking on the ad would take persons directly to your survey page.
Depending on the website on which the advertisement is placed, and the incentives used to encourage persons to participate, it is quite possible to attract a sizeable sample of respondents.
This information would be gathered at only a fraction of what it would cost to carry out a survey the traditional way.
3. CREATE AN ONLINE STOREFRONT
It is now possible to locate and purchase almost any product online.
There are two main options available to a business wanting to set up its own virtual storefront.
One approach involves putting together a secure and fully automated e-commerce website.
Once visitors to such a website find and select the items they would like to purchase, they would be asked to input their payment details.
The transaction is then carried out in 'real time' and the details of the order sent to the merchandiser, who would then have the items shipped to the buyer.
may not be feasible
Depending on the type of products being sold, or the costs associated with shipping, there are instances in which it may not be feasible to take orders in this way.
In such cases, merchandisers can still make use of an online storefront.
They would simply place their product catalogue online in such a way that would allow customers to easily browse through the items.
Once a customer sees an item of interest, he/she may either email or call the merchant for further details.