Online Experience Means Web Site Success

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Most of us in the direct marketing have ordered over the phone or through the mail many times. But how many of us implementing online marketing plans also shop online? If you are in e-commerce and have not placed orders with other Web marketers you are missing an opportunity to make your business better.


There are several ways to approach marketing on the Web. The most basic is to offer customers product information, but require offline intervention to complete the sale.


The next level of Web site incorporates secure transactions enabling customers to order online with little or no human intervention. Still another handful of savvy Web marketers have taken their sites to a level beyond secure transactions, providing customers with service designed to delight them every time.They do it by thinking like their customers.


Recently, Insight's nearly 169 managers were asked to order books from Amazon.com. The aim was to ensure that every manager in the company had the experience of doing business over the Web.


It's not just the managers who are encourage to used the Web regularly. Each account executive at Insight has a PC with Internet and intranet access. This enables them to be "on the same page" with a customer when discussing products, use the Web to gain customer and product information and gain experience using this powerful tool.


Web commerce will continue to expand as more and more shoppers become comfortable using the Internet to do business. Analysts predict growth in all areas, with PC hardware and software, travel, entertainment, books and music and gifts, flowers and greetings leading the category list of products that Internet shoppers are buying. In some categories, a quadrupling of 1997 sales by the year 2000 is predicted.


Established direct marketers have an advantage over start-ups venturing into e-commerce because of their existing order processing and fulfillment systems. We can use this head start to deliver the kind of service that will delight our customers.


We must be very clear on what is important to our customers when they are shopping via the Web and how we can add value to their transactions. One way of adding value is to drive costs out of the transaction on both ends by, for example, by reducing the need to send printed catalogs to customers and prospects, especially consumers and small businesses.


Another way to strengthen relationships with customers is to build community feeling by providing them with enhanced service options. For example, Insight.com's customers can order online using a secure transaction feature. And customers who have negotiated volume pricing agreements can see their special pricing online through special customized Web pages, often linked from corporate intranets.


Online customers can do virtually everything an account executive can do, including ordering quotes, tracing shipments, accessing account history and initiating paperless purchase orders.


Paperless ordering and the ability to access pricing reflective of volume pricing agreements, as well as real-time availability information, mean faster and more efficient purchasing for customers.


Insight.com added other features to the site to provide greater service, including links to manufacturers' sites offering product and technical information, the ability for users to track the progress of their orders, online customer service and technical support, press and investor information and the opportunity to apply for open jobs online.


John-Scott Dixon is director of electronic commerce at computer direct marketer Insight, Tempe, AZ, title sponsor of college football's Insight.com Bowl.
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