Although the Internet may have been conceived as a network superhighway with the noble mission of sharing information worldwide, it seems that the Internet has become, particularly in the case of the WWW, an often- congested turnpike littered with thousands and thousands of billboards. Although this might seem a rather cynical view of the Web, I think most people would agree that many (if not most) of the thousands of Web sites on the Web serve as marketing, advertising, and sales media for businesses, both large and small.
Regardless of what you think of the Web, most businesses (again, the big and the small) feel compelled to have some sort of presence on the Web. Using the Web as another avenue for advertising or sales should definitely be a part of your business plan. How large of a role the Web should play in your business plan should be determined by the type of business you do.
For example, let's say you run a furniture company that has its own outlet. People travel from all over the region to buy your furniture. But would you like to expand your business range? You might take a look at the Web and say, "Wow, we can sell furniture right on the Web." Of course, upon further exploration, you realize that the shipping costs for delivering sectional sofa arrangements and oak armoires from your outlet to the customers buying online is roughly equivalent to the Gross National Product of many third-world countries . It might also dawn on you that people like to sit on furniture before they buy it.
So, rule number one for determining how you will use your Web site is to make the Web site fit into your overall business strategy, not turn it upside down. Many Web sites involving products that are difficult to ship (such as furniture and large appliances) have closed shop on the Web over the last couple of years .
Your use of the Web should be carefully analyzed the same way you analyze all the other potential sales and marketing avenues you use. If trying to sell directly on the Web requires a support infrastructure that costs a ton of money, you might be better off just using the Web as another advertising venue . The number of "dot coms" that have turned to "dot bombs " in the last couple of years proves that you can't sell just anything on the Web.
Although the Web isn't necessarily the end-all marketing tool or sales platform, it does provide you with the ability to reach very large audiences. Let's take a look at some of the marketing strategies that can be used on the Web and some of the issues related to selling on the Web.
Marketing on the Web
The Web provides a large number of content possibilities for marketing your business or company. Information can be presented in a variety of formats, including print, pictures, and even audio and video. All these different content types can then be presented in one placeyour Web site.
Here are some of the possibilities:
To make a long story short, the Web offers more avenues for the delivery of marketing information than any other advertising medium. The Web also provides a platform that can be quickly updated to meet business conditions. For instance, if you can no longer offer a particular service or product, you can remove it from the Web site. Removing a discontinued product or service from a printed catalog would be a lot more problematic than removing the same information from a Web site.
Selling on the Web
Selling on the Web is definitely not for everyone. Not only do you need to have a Web site that provides an up-to-date online catalog, but you also must have the ability to make secure transactions. Web sites that provide online transactions must have some way to track orders and inventory as well as validate customer purchases using various credit cards.
Providing an online store means setting up a fairly complex system of servers. First of all, your Web server will provide the communication interface, such as the catalog and the order form used by the customer. So, the front end for your online store is the Web server that hosts your Web site.
On the back end of your online store, an application server will have to provide databases, such as your inventory database, orders database, and customer database. The Web site will provide the interface for customer interaction with these different databases. Figure 16.1 provides a diagram of how different server types are used for online transactions.
Figure 16.1. Online transactions require communication between your Web server and an application server.
Not only is the hardware and software infrastructure more intense for Web stores when compared to a simple Web site, your online store must also offer a high level of security for transactions. Having someone crack your marketing Web site and mess up some of your Web pages is a lot different from having a cracker break in and steal credit card numbers from your customer database. Secure communications on the Web is accomplished using methods such as encryption and digital certificates. A digital certificate is basically an electronic identification card. It is used to verify the identity of the sender of an encrypted message.
Here are three of the most popular security strategies for securing online transactions:
Research and planning are important aspects of any network rollout, including a Web site that offers an online store. In the case of Web transactions, it might not be a bad idea to talk to a consultant or company that specializes in transaction security. Keeping customer information secure is a total must for any online sales endeavor.
Remember, also, that running an online store has some of the same pitfalls that you face running a storefront business. There are taxes, insurance, potential liability, and, of course, risks.