Monday, January 28, 2013

E-Commerce Ideas for Small Business

Is your business an e-business?

It should be, regardless of what type of business you operate.

E-commerce for Retailers

Some businesses make a logical connection to e-commerce. Retail and specialty stores are an obvious example. One of my first clients was a camera shop that sold high-end cameras and photo developing. In the 80s her business thrived with a downtown location and same day film developing, however she ran on hard times in the 90s when Wal-Mart and other stores started offering one-hour developing at dirt cheap prices. Wal-Mart would develop your film at cost because you would kill an hour shopping in their store. The impending digital revolution looked like it was going to be the nail in the coffin of the local camera shop.

However, it was a unique time on the Internet. Many suppliers were reluctant to sell inventory to Internet-only businesses, and this is particularly true with high-end camera equipment. Professional photographers still had to special order merchandise locally. Man my client realized he wasn't going to make a living developing film, he focused his efforts on professionals. He started selling camera equipment on eBay, and developed a loyal following which translated into one of the first online camera shops.

My client is retired now, however, she survived the transition from bricks and mortar to e-commerce, and thrived during the period when professionals moved from film to digital. Her loyal following came to her when they were replacing 100% of their gear. She sold the business to an e-commerce company and her day job became her nest egg.

E-commerce for B2B

Today most transactions happen online. At one time wholesalers and manufacturers got the bright idea to sell direct to consumers, but many of them found their best customers walk away when faced with online competition.

Today smart manufacturers and distributors don't compete with their own customers. That doesn't mean, however, they don't sell online. Small manufacturers can sell products in bulk and create a website with detailed product descriptions, marketing resources and much more to help retailers maximize their profits. Furthermore, using the right e-commerce system, they can keep proprietary information out of the public eye and away from competitors. Even information such as tiered pricing for different types of customers can remain private except to the end-user.

E-commerce shouldn't be a new way of doing business. A good e-commerce system focuses on extending the reach of your current business and empowering your marketing engine and customer service capabilities.

E-commerce for service businesses

Service businesses have an advantage in the digital world. A local camera store that moves to the Web is suddenly competing against thousands of other websites, some of them with very deep pockets and amazing logistics.

Service businesses, however, have the advantage of a limited amount of local competition. If you're searching for carpet cleaners, IT companies, a chiropractor or a landscaper you're probably going to search locally using the web. You'll find half a dozen websites, and make the decision based on what you see and read. It's kind of like the Yellow Pages used to be; whoever had the largest ad wins most of the business.

But what if your Yellow Pages ad could accept payments, schedule appointments, and even deliver a certain level of service in real-time? But then it wouldn't matter the size of your ad, it would be about the quality of your service.

Service companies have the opportunity today to develop unique solutions for their e-businesses. Massage therapists can schedule appointments without answering the telephone. Cleaning services can quote a job based on square footage and other factors, schedule the work and collect payment immediately. Health clubs can schedule personal trainers, track membership dues and even sell products.

E-commerce for hospitality

Restaurants can't sell dinners online (yet), but they can generate huge revenues with printable, e-mailable gift cards. Do you have a secret sauce? Package it and sell it online. Do you require reservations? Your customers can reserve a table online, with a text, or by telephone and have them all work together.

Hotels and resorts can take reservations and cross promote events with their other facilities, even before the customer arrives.

Small jazz clubs can create an intimate atmosphere in the club, while simulcasting to thousands over the web, and both groups are paying customers. Your performers can sell CDs or MP3s to your audience, even after they've left, and you can collect the commission.

E-commerce for consultants, experts, and people who's product is their time

Maximize your revenue from your expertise. Consultants can create project quotes. Experts can sell e-books. Market your seminars and deliver them over the web, live and worldwide. When there's only 24 hours in the day, make sure you're maximizing the value from each of those hours, and still have time to get some sleep.

Every business is an e-business, but not every website generates real sales.

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