Internet as a Marketing Tool
Seeing Internet Commerce in new Millenium
By Rao Salim
Nov 15 - 21, 1999
If you are an entrepreneur or planning to be one, there is a good chance that you are going to examine the possibility of doing business on the Internet. Since the development of the World Wide Web, commercial enterprises have been coming onto the Net in droves.
The purpose of this article is to give you an overview of Internet commerce so you can decide if it is time to consider putting your company on the Net. Keep in mind that the World Wide Web, which is the only place on the Internet where commerce takes place, has only been in existence sine 1993. Before the Web, there were no graphics, sound or moving pictures on the Net. It was used mostly by researchers and technical wizards.
In the few years it has been in existence, the Web has become a force to reckon with in the business community. The largest growing commercial segment is small to medium-sized companies. At the present time, one in four Websites are retailers, and that proportion is rising. Lately, many new sites are being created by manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors.
For the past two years, 30% of the commercial sites have indicated that they are already "profitable", and another one in four anticipate profitability in the next year.
Net commerce is having a big impact on the nature of some businesses. For example, 20% of all book sales now take place online. The real estate and travel industries have gone through dramatic changes as more and more customers do their shopping and buying online.
Business on the net
To help you evaluate whether or not your business would profit by an Internet presence, we will examine the various activities that you can integrate into your current business operations.
Sell Products and Services: The graphical nature of the Internet makes it a natural for displaying products and descriptions of services in a dynamic, interactive format. Full-color brochures can be created and displayed without the high cost of printing. As product lines develop, additions and changes can be made to a Website without having to reproduce printed materials.
Forms can be displayed with which customers can place orders directly online. Security issues have been addressed and buyers can be assured that their credit card information is safe. For those who are still leery, simple alternatives can be implemented that make ordering easy and convenient.
Build an Image: Many companies and professional practitioners find that having a Website helps establish their image. For a relatively low investment, you can make your product or service known to vast numbers of people. Even if you only have a local business or clientele, your image can be enhanced by a Web presence.
Save Money and Time: Many businesses go online because of the great savings made possible by communicating with customers and prospects via e-mail. If you send faxes or mail documents on a regular basis, you can realize considerable savings by using e-mail instead. When you connect to the Internet through an Internet Service Provider (ISP), for Rs. 1500/= a month you can use the Internet for hundreds of hours and send all the e-mail you want without extra cost to you.
If you have ever paid for a bulk mailing, you will appreciate the fact that you can send out tens of thousands of pieces of e-mail without printing costs and without paying for postage. It is not unusual for businesses to quickly build lists of e-mail addresses of users who can be turned into paying customers.
Businesses that have to send documents can avoid the mails by attaching computer files to e-mail. The documents are sent almost instantaneously and can be printed out at the recipient's convenience.
Give Effective Customer Service: Customers and clients want to know that they can reach you and have their questions answered and complaints handled without having to spend valuable time on the phone. Anyone who has had to deal with complicated voice-mail systems will appreciate the immediacy of using online forms and e-mail.
You can also avoid lengthy customer service calls by answering frequently asked questions online. Any information that you need to get to your customers can easily be displayed at a Website.
Offer Value Added Services: Through the Net, businesses can provide extended customer service and value-added benefits to current and potential customers. For example, financial institutions provide up-to-the-minute interest rates or databases that allow site visitors to calculate loan or mortgage payments. Professionals such as lawyers and medical practitioners offer helpful information and advice. Many businesses provide ways for customers to ask questions or give feedback twenty-four hours a day. Via a friendly Website, companies can "touch" people and appear to be available. Businesses that provide services such as these are realizing added sales via the Net.
Newsletters that are sent via e-mail and/or published on the Net are a popular method of provided value added service to clients and customers. Interesting articles as well as sales and company information can be included in newsletters.
By creating innovative links to other information sources on the Net, your customers will maintain a relationship with you as they keep coming back to your site.
Find Suppliers: The vast resources of the Internet make it possible for you to find vendors and service personnel to fill your business needs. You no longer have to go to the library to use this valuable resource.
Along with individual sites, many industries are now creating Web locations where you can search a database of vendors in a particular field. In one location, you can easily evaluate a great deal of information without having to make endless phone calls.
Stay Informed: There is a mind-boggling amount of information available on the Internet. You can use it for up-to-the-minute news, government regulations, legal questions, sales and marketing ideas and much more. There are thousands of electronic magazines, called e-zines, on a variety of subjects that are available along with daily newspapers from around the world.
Once you familiarize yourself with the resources that interest you, it is simple to set up a series of "bookmarks" which allow you to quickly return to sites that you visit often.
Expand Your Horizons: The Internet is a giant network that functions beyond borders or politics. It is not unusual, in the course of a day, to communicate with people from many different countries.
Once you are using the Net, your thinking will become more global. No matter what field you are in, you are no longer limited to potential customers in your local area. This means it is possible to develop unique products, such as books, tapes etc. that can be sold to a worldwide audience.
How Quickly Can You Make Money on the Net?
Any business venture takes time to grow and mature. People have to become aware that the business exists, then they have to learn to trust it before they will become repeat customers. Business on the Net is no different. Once you have a site, it takes time and effort to build up a loyal customer base.Your results will be directly related to the amount of effort you expend.
Studies show that "profitability rises dramatically with experience online, and Websites with 2 years experience are twice as likely to be profitable as the newest arrivals.
Many commercial enterprises use their sites for building image and public relations. For these sites, profits may come indirectly from the Internet presence.
As Web traffic increases and less expensive computers and other devices bring the Internet to a growing audience, business in all sectors will increase.