Selling Online: The Fundamentals

As more and more merchants consider turning to the internet to build additional ways to serve their customers, it is worth understanding a few of the often-overlooked basics that can make the difference between improving your existing business model and hampering it.

A common mistake is to set the website up as a separate branch, often at different prices and even different customers. This can create a ‘channel conflict’ between your website and your offline branch-based business, which then creates a whole host of problems down the line with conflicts over pricing, customer groups and products.

It is best to see the Internet as just another route to market (or channel). For example: when the telephone was an innovation, I doubt any builders’ merchants set up a ‘phone branch’ separately from their physical branches. Likewise, when fax machines were an innovation, they were not set up as ‘fax branches’. And when email was an innovation, it also got integrated into the usual business of the branch. A business website should be seen as no different.

The website as an extension of the branch

If the website is an extension of the branch, it needs to offer the same level of service, which means providing access to account information such as prices, invoices and statements and being able to transact and interact with the branch teams. It would be strange to telephone a branch and not be able to speak to the staff with whom the customers have a relationship, so, again, this must be put in place for web in the same way.

Your customers know where you are

Your account customers who already trade with you and have done so for years do not need to use Google maps to find your branches, since they know where they are. It is for this reason that they also don’t need to search Google for your website address, which means that you don’t need to compete with the big retailers to be found there. The reality is that, if you extend your branch offering through a website, your customers will access it without much persuasion. Once you get the word out, via your staff and some branch posters etc. the rest of the customer base will follow in their own time. 

Website visitors can be fickle

If you attract people to your website who do not know your brand, they will have no affinity to it or your business, which makes them highly likely to leave.

Then they may not be able to find what they are looking for, get it delivered to their postcode, or get a competitive price (if they are not trade customers). If they have to return goods that might not be right for them, they can end up slating you on social media for good measure, so it’s better to focus on your existing customers who already know what you’re about.

Don’t make me think

Using the website should be as intuitive as possible, because people want to be able to cruise through a website effortlessly, almost without thinking. Every time you make them think, you wear them down and they will eventually abandon your website.

Despite some merchants thinking that websites can be bad for customer relationships and therefore bad for their businesses, the reality is that bad websites are bad for business and not trading online in general.