ebusinesses operate in a dynamic new market place, one where time and distance between the "shop front" and the customer are potentially irrelevant, where customers can browse from supplier to supplier, in the same or even different countries using a few mouse clicks and where ordering and payment and delivery needs to be handled quickly, easily and securely.
ebusinesses can enjoy massive audiences -but not necessarily markets! The market size will be dictated by the product/service offered and its relevance to potential consumers. This is an important consideration for ebusinesses offering innovative products/services or new ways of procuring existing products - they may be creating new, undefined markets.
The Internet enables successful ebusinesses in sparse markets - niche products that might not be viable in a single town, county or even country, can become viable through the effects of Internet "Reach".
The Internet has created a "level playing field" for ebusinesses. Traditional barriers to entry in many markets have been eliminated and new entrants can compete on equal terms with much larger players - visitor perceptions being the overriding consideration. In many ways new, small ebusinesses have an advantage over larger established businesses because they have more freedom to innovate and change in response to market conditions. Several large organisations are responding to these pressures by establishing their ebusinesses as "arms length" subsidiaries run on more entrepreneurial lines.
ebusinesses must adopt new techniques in areas including;
Marketing an ebusiness presents several new challenges. On the one hand the business may be operating on a scale that is not covered by traditional marketing channels - for instance across several countries, but then again, the target market might be specialised and sparse.
Search Engines are the most popular method of finding products and services on the Internet. Search Engines provide a free service - they index registered sites by keyword and enable users to search these indexes using words and phrases to locate relevant sites.
Search Engine registration is essential if potential customers are to find your site. Registration is generally free but can be time consuming. There are so many search engines that there are commercial services offered that will submit your registration to multiple Search Engines and then maintain the registrations with regular renewals.
But note that with Search Engines registration, Quality is more important than Quantity!
One of the most powerful techniques is termed "Viral Marketing". As the name implies you can use certain techniques to spread details of ebusiness via visitors, users and suppliers. There are several techniques that are acceptable depending largely on the nature of your site/service. Note that unsolicited junk mailing (called spamming), is not one of them.
A good basic technique if you are sending information to users is to always include your site link ideally with some offer, invitation or news. This technique is used to great effect by the free Email services.
When a Hotmail user sends an email, the Hotmail service adds its standard Hotmail tag to the end of the message - "Get Your Free Hotmail account here.....". This promotes Hotmail on every message and encourages recipients to register for an account. As soon as they register and start sending mail they also start promoting to a new group of email users. This type of marketing is low cost, unobtrusive, perceived to have value by many recipients and spreads itself as new users register.
A similar technique is to offer a link on your web site called "email a friend" that enables a visitor to forward a short personal message to another person. The email that is sent carries your web site address as a clickable link and a tag line e.g "What a great site for bicycles" together with the visitors own message. This increases awareness of your site and produces a self defining list of visitors with some affinity for your business or products.
Other techniques include;
Viral marketing is a very powerful technique and it is an area where new ideas are still being developed.
A traditional business can get to know its customers through personal interactions - face to face or other forms of direct communication, and tailor its product and service offerings accordingly. An ebusiness operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Visitors arrive, use the service and leave to unknown destinations throughout the day. The more a business knows about these visitors, the better it can meet their requirements.
ebusiness must use different techniques to get to know their customers.
Requesting registrations can yield useful details such as email address, postal addresses, product/lifestyle preferences etc. However many users resist simple registration requests unless they perceive a low risk "pay back".
So, to overcome the most common objections an ebusiness should offer information services such as "new product details", "special offers", "competitions", newsletters etc. Make clear your commitment to maintaining confidentiality and non-disclosure of email addresses to third parties.
Other useful techniques for collecting visitor/customer knowledge include;
These techniques encourage visitors to register, providing your business with email addresses and other details. When a visitor returns to one of your information services and logs in you can identify them, record their activities, tailor outputs based on past activities etc.
Another common technique used to recognise visitors is the "cookie". A cookie is a small piece of information that a Web service can send to a Browser to be stored on the visitors PC. Typically it consists of a visitor number and is identified by the Web service address.
When a visitor accesses a site for the first time the Web service creates a visitor record and sends a cookie with the visitor number to their Browser. Next time the visitor accesses the service, the cookie is retrieved and the visitor number used to retrieve the visitor record.
This simple mechanism enables basic visitor tracking but it is not foolproof. Some people feel concerned that a Web Service can monitor their usage of the service and disable cookies in the Browser. Any ebusiness needs to use a combination of techniques to make sure they have a broad coverage of visitor details.
If you send regular emails then always add a link back to your site to each one.
If an ebusiness has collected email addresses through using one or more of the tactics discussed above then it is possible to use these addresses for targeted email promotion.
The golden rules are;
It may be that your existing products do not fit well with the ebusiness model. It may be that they are physically too fragile, too heavy or short lived to be carried to other countries.
Review your products and consider how they might be better packaged for ebusiness markets and customers. Changes might include smaller packages, heat treated products, local suppliers, language neutral packaging etc.
If you have seasonal products then think about the potential of following seasons around the world. Could you establish a 365 day per year woolen glove supply business?
Review your Parcel Carrier options, make sure they/you are offering the best value, most appropriate delivery service for your products/services.
The Internet itself can provide you with the greatest source of ideas, information and advice. Use the Internet to research ideas, to monitor competitors, learn about new marketing techniques etc.
Knowing your customers (see above) enables an ebusiness to track usage and evaluate effectiveness of offers, site changes etc. However customer satisfaction is a complete product life cycle issue and must take account of the ordering, fulfillment, delivery and product acceptability. Remember that in many cases the first time the customer can "feel" the product is when it is finally delivered. Until then their perceptions have been based on your product descriptions and images.
A common technique is to select visitors on a random basis for customer satisfaction survey. However visitors often consider such questions a waste of their time and refuse to complete them. The usual method of overcoming such resistance is to offer an incentive - free draw etc.
An alternative method might be to offer an online warranty regisitration service. This can collect customer details including email addresses!
A feedback facility within a Web service is a useful method for collecting visitor information, comments and suggestions. This is generally a web based form that the user completes which is then sent by email back to the business.
In addition to collecting your users' views you should make sure that all communications are answered promptly by a business representative - not the Web Master!
A final thought - play the customer role on any competitor sites and check out their user experience. Are they doing things better than your own service? If so look at adopting and enhancing.
A lot of thinking usually goes into the front-end of an ebusiness - site design, naming, services, and promotion. However the customer experience is very much concerned with the order fulfilment process. Can the customer select your products accurately, construct a valid, priced order easily and quickly and then place the order and make payment securely?
These ordering activities are controlled by the visitor and may take palce at any time of day. The result is a pre-paid order that the customer has specified that needs to be processed quickly and accurately. It is essential that customer generated orders are 100% accurate in terms of products, prices, delivery and tax charges so as to avoid any unnecessary delays.
Orders need to be managed through the system, products despatched and accounts updated. Obviously these activities must integrate with existing inventory control systems, manufacturing and supply processes. Often these older systems are not responsive enough for an ebusiness.
Many organisations are recognising the limitations of their order fulfilment processes and are adopting Web technology within their organisations and through to their own suppliers.
Instead of orders arriving from the Web Service having to be retyped into an Order Processing system, the web service can be linked directly into the Order Processing System, posting orders around the clock.
Inventory control can be linked via Email to suppliers and online payments used between the business and its suppliers. Exploitation of Internet technologies is reshaping organisations as they automate business processes, integrating their suppliers.
An ebusiness solution often acts as a catalyst, encouraging business reengineering, yielding major benefits in many areas of the business.