JCK Show: e-Commerce Strategies

For George Whalin, the Internet is alive and well and will evolve as a terrific way for bricks-and-mortar operations to make money.

Whalin said that bricks-and-mortar operations have an inherent advantage over “pure play” e-commerce sites because they are already known quantities among consumers. They have already earned trust and credibility, which many e-commerce businesses don’t have. But maintaining that trust online requires plenty of work.

Whalin, founding partner of Retail Management Consultants, a sales and marketing firm in San Marcos, Calif., led a two-and-a-half-hour discussion titled “Bricks & Clicks: An e-Commerce Strategy for Retailers” at The JCK Show educational program on Wednesday. During his presentation, he discussed, among other things, the best ways to get listed on Internet search engines and directories, how to design quality Web sites, and the best practices when marketing Web sites.

“If you are not spending two to three hours per week minimum just looking at stuff . you’re missing out on the magic of the medium,” Whalin said.

He stressed the importance of building a great site because competition among quality Web sites is fierce. “I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “At first Web sites were really lame. It’s not that way anymore.”

One way to help ensure that a site maintains its quality is by making sure the owner of the site has total control over it. This way a store owner can design a Web site that properly presents the image of the store in a way that is unique, and the store can easily update the site on a regular basis.

Web sites that Whalin says set the standard for quality include the Lands’ End site, which recorded $218 million in sales in 2000, and the Eddie Bauer site, which has been profitable during every year of operation, with sales increases of more than 100% for the past three years.

One way to create a quality Web site is to make it unique and easy-to-use. For example, provide several ways to make purchases: online, by fax, and via a toll-free number. “Easy, easy, easy,” Whalin said. “What can I do to make it easier to buy?”

When showing product on Web sites, the rules of merchandising don’t change, he said. Product images and descriptions must be of the same quality as in the store.

There are several ways to market a Web site, he said. The best way, he believes, is to use e-mail. Acquiring e-mail addresses and using e-mail to post store sales, publicize exclusive Internet specials, and provide more personal information is a very strong tactic, he said. “One the beauties of e-mail is that it is such a personal medium,” he noted.

Posting the Web page on business cards, advertisements, and mailings will help to drive consumers to the site, Whalin added.

Finally, customer service is vital to gain consumer confidence. This means, among other things, returning e-mails within 24 hours and shipping product in a timely manner.

Whalin said that all retailers who want to have a presence online should ask these ten questions:

1. Has our site been designed to meet the needs and exceed the expectations of our customers?

2. Are we maximizing our position on search engines and online directories?

3. Are we attracting repeat and new visitors with effective marketing and promotion?

4. Are we regularly updating our site with new products, content, and offers?

5. Are we using e-mail to communicate with customers and offer them compelling reasons to buy from our Web site or visit our store?

6. Does our Web site sell?

7. Why should a visitor come back again and again?

8. What are we doing to establish trust and build credibility?

9. What are we doing to ensure that our site is compelling to visitors?

10. Does our Web site support and enhance our overall business strategy?