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No Web Site? Expert Has Solution

Thursday, March 29, 2007

No Web Site? Expert Has Solution(GIFTBEAT)Having a Web site for your gift store is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity, says Toni Ivey, president and co-owner of Georgia-based OmegaNet, Inc., Internet specialists for the gift industry and designers of more than 200 e-commerce Web sites for wholesalers. A Web site can be as simple as a single page providing basic store information or as complex as one with a shopping cart that features hundreds of items. Whatever size and style you choose, Ivey adds, the time for establishing a Web site is now!

Q. How important is an Internet presence for a gift store?

A. Vital! Experts tell us that 75% of consumers will pull up a store's Web site prior to going to the store. With a Web site, customers can find directions to your store location, easily find your store hours, see the type of products you carry, see the specific brands in your store and order products to be shipped to them.

Q. For retailers without a Web site, what is the best way to get started?

A. Go to a Web site like GoDaddy.com or CAMEOEZ.com and get a domain name (e.g. www.giftbeat.com). There are seven million Web sites out there. That means most domain names are gone, but you still should try to get the name you want, like xyzgifts.com, xyz-gifts.com or xyzgifts.biz. The charge for a domain name ranges from $10 to $35 per year. Even if you don't plan to create a Web site for a year or so, it's a small price to pay to protect your name.

You also need a domain name and at least a single Web page to start getting placement with the Internet's search engines, like google.com or yahoo.com. The longer your Web page is out there, the more likely your Web page will be able to be found by the search engines and place higher on them. Get something up on the Internet immediately, even if it's just a single Web page, or contact page. This is like a business card approach that includes your store name, phone, email address, etc. Your cable company, Internet service provider or phone company will sometimes host a single Web page free as part of your contract with them.

Q. What should retailers know about their Web site designers before contracting with them?

A. Ask for referrals from someone who already has a working Web site that you like. Check out several Web site developers and get honest answers from those companies’ existing clients. What do the companies know about the gift industry? What kind of response time do clients get when they need assistance? Are staffers easy to work with? Make sure staffers don't talk over a person's head and use "techie" language that can't be understood.

Q. What can retailers do to increase traffic to their Web sites?

A. Put your Web site address on all store ads or correspondence. Place Web address stickers on all products in your store. This sounds like a lot of trouble, but it's important to do. That sticker may be the only thing that reminds customers where they got the product. Get links from Web portals (Web sites) in your city or area like your local chamber of commerce or tourist association, the Better Business Bureau, Yellow Pages and manufacturers. Do at least an annual search engine registration with major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, etc. Have links on Web portals that are highly listed on major search engines, such as TheShoppePlace.com portal for retailer Web sites.

Q. What are some mistakes that retailers typically make when launching their Web sites?

A. Going cheap! Your store's Web site is your store's "look," its branding. It is your brochure or catalog, and should be a quality piece of work. Plus, if a Web site isn't constructed properly, search engines can't find it, so your site basically gets lost in cyberspace. Also, make sure it can easily be modified by you or your staff “in house.” There are several things that have to be done correctly regarding security, sales tax and shipping. Also, sites must be easy to navigate.

Q. What advice do you have for retailers wanting to add shopping carts to existing Web sites?

A. Ask yourself if you'll have someone who will check emails every day for orders. If an order comes in and no one finds it for days, that is not providing good service! Are you going to keep the site's products up to date and remove out-of-stock or discontinued product? It is easy (or should be) to remove an item number from the Web site, but someone will have to commit to doing it. If not, don't put up the e-commerce portion of your site.

Also, how are you going to market the Web site? It is not like the "Field of Dreams," where "If you build it, they will come." One industry marketing consultant suggests that 10% of your marketing budget will need to be spent on promoting and advertising your Web site. Be sure to set aside money for this. A good Web developer should help you integrate your site into your total marketing strategy.

Q. Where can I find a shopping cart provider?

A. Just about every Web site hosting company has an e-commerce (or shopping cart) element as either part of a package or an add-on premium. If you like your current Web site, are able to easily make changes and do not want a new design, you should first check with your current Web site host. The company may have some e-commerce packages; some use standardized programs such as Miva Merchants or OSCommerce. Just check to make sure that that particular shopping cart actually has all the features that you want. All carts are not the same! For example, if you get a good system cart, it should be very easy to add products.

Q. What's the average cost for these services?

A. Of course, big name national retailer e-commerce Web sites can cost in the tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you have a whole new Web site and shopping cart created professionally, it is possible to pay an initial fee of $1,000 to $2,500, depending on what features you want included and how fancy a design you need. Like anything, you may be able to find it for less, but remember that "You usually get what you pay for." Resources for do-it-yourself Web sites include netsol.com and GoDaddy.com, which has an incredibly inexpensive shopping cart. If you are "techie" at all, you can set the cart up yourself. This can be quite time consuming but it is cheaper. However, you must evaluate how much your time is worth.

There will also be a monthly hosting charge, which should include a security certificate. Security certificates are represented by logos on your Web site that show consumers that it's secure to use their credit cards on your site. The cost for these certificates can range from $20 per year, to $1,000 per year for one like VeriSign.

Q. How can independent store owners compete with big boxes on the Internet?

A. The smallest business can look huge with a top-quality Web site and excellent customer service.

Q. What types of merchandise should retailers initially "put" in their shopping carts?

A. I personally think you should put up your 50 best-sellers first. So many manufacturers are selling items on eBay and other inexpensive Web sites. Make sure you have items that are somewhat unique. You can also have a "close-out" or "sale item" area on your Web site, if you have store items that are not selling. People love that!

Q. How can retailers find vendors' product information and images for their shopping carts?

A. One of your biggest jobs will be continuing to contact vendors to get their product data, price lists and digital images. There are also two helpful sources of products images and data for retailer Web sites in the gift industry. One is operated by my firm, OmegaNet, Inc. (www.cameoez.com); the other by OverCoffee Productions.

Q. How can I find out how many people are using my Web site?

A. There are a couple of tracking tools out there that are free or available for a small charge. eXTReMe Tracking is the one that OmegaNet uses a lot. The link is: https:// extremetracking.com/?reg.

Note: You can reach Ivey at 800-726-1423 or toni@omeganetinc.net.

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