By Bob McElwain
There's so much data about the Web floating about, it's
difficult to make sense of it all. And even more difficult to
plan based on the information you have. However, it does seem
clear that B2B (Business to Business) transactions are up, and
are likely to move up even more strongly. Reports indicate very
large increases in capital spending by major companies to take
full advantage of savings to be had in buying on the Web.
Some reports regards B2C (Business to Consumer) transactions
paint glowing pictures of increases in this area as well. But
my hunch is, the "glow" mentioned isn't as bright as claimed.
Certainly the volume of business is not. My conviction is that
online companies hoping to attract offline consumers have a very
long way to go.
A Typical B2C Site
They're usually well done. Navigation is pretty good.
Buy buttons abound. With lots of links to further information or comparisons.
But the information provided is pretty skimpy. And the
comparisons are often limited. Okay, this handheld has 2 megs
of memory and this one has 8 megs. The novice has questions:
"Which is best for me? And why?"
On most sites, such answers aren't available. In fact you
may not even find an email address to which to send a question.
It's as if these companies assume you know all about what you
need before you arrive.
My Introduction To Palm Pilots
I recently became interested in Palms and would like to have
one. But I also need the software or whatever to convert text
to a format this unit can display. My guess is that files to
be read on a Palm must be downloaded to a desktop computer, then
loaded into the Palm with a physical or software interface. But
I'm not sure.
Three hours of looking at sites loaded with products and
buy buttons, got me nowhere close to any answer. And at this
writing, I'm as uninformed as when I began. (To be fair,
I haven't yet checked further.)
Will Consumers Commit The Time?
Most realize that for your small online business to attract
buyers, your site must be super simple to navigate, have
flawless paths to completed sales, and provide efficient service
and outstanding support. But these and related notions will
only take you so far.
Will consumers begin flocking to the Web only to spend hours
trying to figure what model of whatever best suits their needs?
In cameras, there is a vast selection. In digicams as well.
And even with something as simple as an audio recorder, the same
holds true. I seriously doubt your visitors will volunteer much
time to find information that should be readily available.
The Present Trend Will Continue
So long as major sites can profit from sales generated with
pictures, brief descriptions and skimpy details, they will
continue to operate in this mode. But most consumer dollars
will continue to be spent offline where information needed is
In selling products on the Web, all possible must be done
to emulate the offline buying experience. Anticipate and answer
completely all questions that may arise in a visitor's mind.
There must be sufficient information for even a novice to make
a good buy decision. While you likely won't show this to all
visitors, it's got to be there. Possibly as an option on the
Until this happens on your site, you will not sell much to
people unacquainted with your products. And you will not attract
many offline consumers. Further, until this becomes the norm
for online businesses, don't expect any mass movement of offline
consumers to the Web.
But Hey, That's A Lot Of Work
You bet it is. And time-consuming as well. But I won't be
buying a Palm until I find a site that cheerfully provides the
answers I need. And what may matter more, responds promptly
to an email.
Further, I want to feel confident I'm buying from a pro
who can and will support the product. Give me that stuff about
hardware support is referred to the manufacturer, and I'm gone.
But given a site with a solid business person behind it,
then my question becomes simple. Which model should I buy?
Likely I'll get good advice in this as well.
And price won't matter much. If I pay an extra $20 over
some discount site, so what? Call it insurance, if you like.
I know where to turn if I hit a snag. A bit extra means
little in comparison. And the same is true for lots and
lots of people.
Forget Price Shoppers
Some businesses are concerned about the shopping bots,
certain they'll get beat out on price on most any product in
common demand. While there are those who shop price, I suggest
you don't need this kind of business. You'll likely lose a sale
on another item to a site with a price even lower than yours.
Build a site that satisfies all the needs of a person brand
new to a product, or one even new to the Web. A site that also
satisfies the needs of experts. If you demonstrate your
expertise and credibility, your visitors will buy without much
concern for price. And what matters more, do this right, and
they'll be back.
If you have a mechanic who takes great care of your car, one
whom you've come to trust, chances are you drop your car off,
explain the problem, ask him to fix it, and leave without more
than a mild interest in the cost. Since he's never treated you
unfairly in the past, it's unlikely he'll do so now.
Build this kind of reputation on your website, and you can
safely ignore price shoppers. But above all, provide
information to satisfy the needs of novices and experts, and
all those in between. Since most don't do so, this may give
you precisely the competitive edge you need to beat your