Monday, April 24, 2006

Appeal to a Nationwide Customer

A goood product for an online store appeals to a nationwide customer, not just a local customer. Since the product should be a niche product - something not found at Target, the market has to be larger.

If your business is a local service business like a home builder, it is still a good idea to have a website. It is just that the website will not be the primary revenue generator. In this case, the website serves as a huge information store. A website can have lots of text on lots of pages, but a brochure has only three pages of text. So, the technique for a local service business is to put your website address on everything: business cards, brochures, truck decal, advertising. Then people will type in your website and read lots of information about you which adds to your credibililty. Then they are more informed and trust you more when you meet with them face-to-face.

Some products have a local appeal only, like region-specific logos on sweatshirts. Those may not do as well as a wildlife sweatshirt that appeals to people everywhere.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Product Options Should be Easy to Understand

One big thing about selling products on the web is that it is self-service. The customer has to be able to figure out how to buy the item by themselves at 11:00 on Sunday night. Options should be easy to understand.

A tshirt has easy to understand options: size, color, design. Complex options or options contingent on other options will cause the customer to call with questions. It is ok if your product or service is complex. Just post a toll-free phone number and your hours of operations on your website. Then, the nice thing about talking to your customers, you can figure out what they want better and upsell them into better products.

Sometimes the best way to handle complex options is to have a quote form. The customer fills out the form, you reply to their email with a quote. Then you can ship it out when they accept the quote.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Product Sale Should be Repeatable

A repeatable product sale is the idea that you can post the product description, price, and photo once and then sell many copies of the item. This approach takes less time to manage your website. For example: a tshirt with a custom design, just call up the screen printer for more tshirts. Selling prints of artwork is repeatable. Selling the original one-of-a kind piece of art is unique.

It is still completely viable to sell unique items. It just means that your business model is going to require more time to photograph, post, market, advertise, mark as sold, and then replace the product with the next one. Just build the time requirement into the business. An example of unique items: antiques, collectibles, original art work, original hand-made crafts.

Start thinking about what products you could sell online. So far, we have mentioned that it should be somewhat unique - something a person cannot find at Target, or the grocery store, or the hardware store. Competing on a commodity product means competing on price against huge stores that can sell it for less than you can buy it for. But, products that are repeatable, or even hand-made from a pattern, are easier to sell online that one-of-a-kind items. So, getting the right product for online sales is a balancing act.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Consistent Shipping Makes Products Easier to Sell

Consistent shipping allows for a simpler shopping cart. If your products are similar weight, size, volume, and density - then the shipping calculation is simpler. The shopping cart software is simpler and cheaper.

For example: a t-shirt fits in the same size box, weighs the same, and costs the same to ship regardless of the size, color, or design on it. On the other hand, if the products you sell are always different: a small, intricate jewelry box, a sturdy oak chair, and a tall, delicate lamp stand with shade - then the shipping is always different. There may be custom box or packaging requirements.

It is a feasible business model to have products with all those different shipping attributes, it just requires a custom shipping quote for every sale. Just build the custom shipping quote into your business model. There needs to be a feedback process to get the quote to the customer and then confirm the sale. Some shopping carts have the UPS Point-to-Point Shipping Calculator installed, which means the software does the shipping calculation for each product during checkout.