This article by Stuart L. Adams, Jr. appeared in the
Louisville Computer News
Determine What Your Business Will Accomplish by Being on the Web
by Stuart Adams
You have presumably decided that it is important for your business to be on the Web. Hopefully, there is a more solid reason for this than there may have been for many unfortunates whose e-company stock values dropped like a rock during the stock marketís "correction" of e-business stock valuations. Up to that time, many businesses simply felt there was so much momentum behind the "dotcoms" that any business would be able to succeed simply by being online. As other sections of this book indicate, nothing could be further from the truth. Now everybody else knows it too, so itís up to you to review that part of your business plan which says "my company must have a web presence."
The real question is, whether your business will benefit more by being on the web than it will lose by not being on it. This requires a more careful analysis than many thought in the late 90s, before the "correction." There may be a benefit but there most certainly will be a cost. There is also the possibility that your business will suffer irreparably from itís Web strategy. There are a number of companies which have done very well until they had either an unsuccessful online strategy or one that was too successful. Thatís right, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
Donít Promise What You Canít Deliver
There are several companies which have promised much only to find that their lack of capacity to serve their e-commerce customers caused those previously happy shoppers to migrate to a vendor who could come through. The Christmas seasons of 1999 and 2000 marked periods of dissatisfaction with some toy companies and others who simply could not fulfill orders from Web customers. Many shoppers who purchased Christmas gifts online found their packages didnít arrive on time. This generated so much animosity against the vendors that previously happy customer swarmed to the competition. This miscalculation caused many of such companies, if they survived, to radically change their e-business strategy.
If you learn no other lesson about e-commerce strategies, it should be that by putting your business online, you will typically have to deal with a customer base that has a limited "attention span" and almost total lack of loyalty. That is the price you pay in e-commerce. If your home page does not load quickly enough or if your visitor cannot find the information sought within seconds of arrival, itís on to the next site.
Consider how many of your visitors, presuming youíve overcome the initial hurdle of standing out from the ever-growing crowd and actually have some, found your URL somewhere in a list returned by a search engine. If thatís the case, then scores of your competitors are just a click away. If your graphics are too large, your site will load slowly, and your visitors depart. If they hunt for the thing that brought them to you site, but canít immediately find it, they depart. If they want to see a picture of the product, technical specifications or a comparison to other products, but donít immediately find them, they depart. If they want a fuller description of your services or customer support policy but its not apparent within an instant of arrival, you guessed it. They depart for the next most appealing site listed by their search engine, and they may never return to your site.
Whatís almost as bad, if they remember your site at all (which they might if they are using some browsers because your URL link will turn a different color after they have clicked on it, to indicate theyíve already been to it) their memory will be itís a site to avoid because it didnít live up to the expectation "promised" by their search engine. In other words, in the minds of your prospects, perhaps youíve already disappointed them or even "lied" to them if they didnít instantly get what they came for. Chances of getting them back may now be remote.
Jakob Nielsen, a former Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer, pointed out in his book, Designing Web Usability, New Riders Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2000:
Because it is so painful to read text on computer screens and because the online experience seems to foster some amount of impatience, users tend not to read streams of text fully. Instead, users scan text and pick out keywords, sentences, and paragraphs of interest while skipping over those parts of the text they care less about... In a study... we found 79% of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only a very few users would read word-by-word...Skimming instead of reading is a fact of the Web, and itís been confirmed by countless usability studies."
Nielsen further noted that the Web is a "user-driven medium where users feel they have to move around click on things." There are tools which will allow you to at least attempt to see if visitors are clicking and running. With a modest effort and inexpensive (or free) software, you should be able to monitor your site to see what visitors are clicking on, files they are downloading and other valuable information. Even without any real invasion of your visitorsí privacy, you can start to build a picture of where they go in your site, how interested they are in various parts of it, and where your dead wood is.
With slightly more sophisticated (and expensive) software, you can determine pretty much the everything you would ever need to know about your visitors. Rick Stoutís book, Web Site Stats, Osborne McGraw Hill, Berkley, California, 1997, is a classic work on the depth of research you can obtain and strategies you can employ in pursuit of it. The book even comes with a CD containing full-functioning evaluation copies of some of the better commercial analysis programs, which you can try before you buy.
Getting Respect for Your Web Site
There are scores of other books on Web customer research techniques. Another favorite of mine is Guerilla Web Strategies by Vince Gelormine, Corolis Group Books, Scottsdale, Arizona 1996. Some of the material is dated, but the basic principles outlined are still worth studying. Like itís namesake, The Guerilla Marketing Handbook, by Jay Levinson and Seth Godin, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1994, it does a good job of simplifying the things you need to know about obtaining Web statistics and how to use them to improve customer satisfaction with your site. Gelormineís book has a particularly insightful forward by Rodney Dangerfield, who proclaims he received press coverage as the first entertainer to have his own Web site: www.rodney.com. As he says:
The most challenging element of having oneís own Web site quickly surfaced... How do you get folks to hit you? And once they do visit your Web site, how do you get them to keep hitting you?
I tell you, itís not easy out there on the Net! Getting respect for your Web site requires hard work and vigilance...
P.S.: I never had any luck with computers. I bought an Apple, it had a worm in it!
Help the Customer Hit a HOME RUN at Your Web Site
The old saying "the customer is always right" never applied more strongly than to e-commerce. You must design your site for your customers, not for yourself. If they enjoy themselves, you stand a chance of profiting. Personal and corporate ego have no place in e-commerce. You must give your customers or audience what they want in a quick and efficient manner. Anything else will cause you to immediately slide down that black hole initiated by the next click of the mouse. That being said, you must decide if your goals can be met within the customerís framework of instant gratification.
Nielsen has come up with the acronym HOME for the reasons users come back to a Web site:
Minimal download time
Ease of use
A high traffic count or "hit" count does not mean you are successful in your Web strategy. As Nielsen points out, "people are extremely goal-driven on the Web. They have something specific they want to do, and they donít tolerate anything standing between them and their goal." The rest of Nielsenís acronym is RUN:
Relevant to the userís needs
Unique to the online medium
Net-centric corporate culture
The result of creating a Web site with these characteristics is an improved chance of helping your customers feel theyíve hit a HOME RUN when they visit. This, of course, is presumably what all of us want. This does not come by putting up a big picture of yourself, unless you are Favio or Cindy Margolis. It does not come by attempting to create your content with "brochureware," meaning reprints of non-Web marketing materials you simply republished on your Web site. You must design and redesign for the Web.
People want information when they surf the Web. They typically enjoy the little treasures of information they stumble on as they pursue their original goal. For you to capitalize on this, you must provide real information that they cannot find elsewhere in the same fashion. That doesnít mean that itís not available elsewhere, just that youíve done it better.
Better can mean you have it where they can find it quickly. It can simply be organized better. It can be provided with links to other repositories of information they would want. It can include comparison material, a favorite of shoppers. It can provide reviews or commentaries, popular with sellers of books, music and software (www.amazon.com) and old standards, such as Consumer Reports (www.ConsumerReports.org) type sites. It can be provided in an entertaining manner, as long as that doesnít hinder their primary goal in visiting the site in the first place. Remember the earlier admonition against clutter and slow-loading graphics. Of equal or greater danger are the "cutting edge" technologies which may crash your average slower band width prospective customer. Not everyone has all the plug-in applications and a T1 line. DSL and cable are still emerging technologies in many areas where your customers may live and work.
The bottom line is:
Will my e-commerce site improve sales?
Will my site reduce my costs?
In the final analysis, will my Web site improve the position of my business?
Pretty much everything else, if you think about it, is derived from these three basic questions. They become your goals and the foundation of your e-commerce business plan. As you work through why you want a Web site for your business, each element should be measured against these three tests.
While I was president of The Entrepreneur Society, we had a guest speaker who was the founder of a well known national fast food chain. He had, up to that time, done a miraculous job of positioning his company to rise through the ranks of hundreds of competitors. During his lecture, he said that one of his major competitive advantages was the limited menu he had decided on. By eliminating a long list of items, the company could do what it did best, avoid the high research and development costs associated with bringing new items to market, and could cut marketing, training and other costs associated with a more extensive and complicated line-up. Iím not sure if it was something in the refreshments we were serving, but within weeks of his talk to our group, his company embarked on a whole new line of additional food items.
This golden boy of the fast food industry soon watched his company falter and then wither. He was apparently right on the mark, as to how he got to where he was. He simply forgot the lesson he tried to teach the rest of us. Set your goals. Those goals must be turned inside out and be seen from the customerís side of things, since nothing else is important. Once you define those goals, monitor your progress to insure that you stay on track, but always keep those goals in focus.
© 2000 by Stuart Adams
This is the 5th installment in the Authorís online book. Your comments and input would be appreciated in helping the Author make this an "organic book," which will continue to grow and adapt to change, just as any business itself must do. E-mail your comments and suggestions to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.