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Relationship-building influence eCommerce

July 13, 2006

According to a new report done by JupiterResearch last week, comparison shopping analyzis does motivate some consumers to shop online, but client testimonials still goes a long way in promoting online sales.

Sonal Gandhi, an analyst at Jupiter Research says the single most important factor that will determine eCommerce purchases by small businesses is previous experience or familiarity with the online seller.

Gandhi added "That's likely to change over time". "Younger businesses are comfortable doing business on the Web and are spending more of their budget online. They will comparison shop more simply because they don't have existing or previous relationships with those online stores.

"The higher the comfort level corporate decision makers have with buying goods or services online, the more likely they are to shop more," she added.

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Nevertheless, building and maintaining good relationships will remain important in attracting small businesses to shop on the 'Net.

"You have to continue to maintain a close relationship with your shoppers," suggested Gandhi. "You make certain of providing good customer service. Most importantly, you have to ship on time and make it as easy as possible to return products that are either defective or don't meet your customer's needs".

Gandhi adds "All those relationship-building techniques remain really important. Increasingly, you also have to provide comparative information, along with plenty of information on your site."

Comparative information was the number one factor eCommerce shoppers cited as a reason to buy more on the Internet, Gandhi noted. "If it's easy to compare others' products with your products, it will help get shoppers to buy more from you. It's all about the user's experience".

They're also more likely to buy from you if they understand how your product will help their business, she maintained, pointing to the product adviser tool used by Dell Computer as a valid example.

Dell's product adviser asks a series of questions to tailor its product recommendations to a specific potential buyer. "It makes it relevant for them, and that makes a big difference for a decision maker," said Gandhi.

Another technique for increasing eCommerce sales is establishing an online community around your products, as Intuit has done so well for its financial software and financial-help products.

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Intuit's products are sold largely through its channel partners, she explained. These partners, many of whom are accountants, obviously influence the purchasing decisions of many of their clients. "Intuit uses its website to influence buyers because the accountants are telling the small businesses what software they should be buying," she reasoned.

Startup businesses in particular can rapidly step out of their comfort zone when it comes to financial software, according to Scott K. Wilder, manager of Intuit's small business online communities.

"If you're starting a small bike store, you're an expert on bikes, but when it comes to buying financial software, that's very different," he said. "In that case, word-of-mouth recommendations or talking to somebody who has expertise in that area is really important.

"One of the things we try to do at the site is bring together the accountants and small business owners," he added.

A search tool at the site, for example, allows users to type in their ZIP code to find accountants located in their area.

Marketers have also taken a more direct tack that is driving small business traffic to their sites, added Scott Healy, vice president of marketing for Buyerzone.com, a B2B purchasing site headquartered in Watertown, Mass.

They've been promoting "eCommerce-only" specials through direct mail, email or broadcast ads, he noted.

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"Instead of the message being, 'Come to our store' or 'Call us,' it's something to drive people to a website -- something with Web-specific offers or advantages," Healy said.

He added that there's also been an increase in the amounts spent on marketing in locally-focused online media. "There's been a surge in the last year or two in the growth of local online directories where, as an advertiser, you can run ads at the local level, which tend to hit more small businesses," he said.

Healy is quick to point out, however, that relationships with offline sellers don't necessarily translate to the online world.

"What buyers are doing these days is rely less on relationships and more on the input of other buyers like them," he observed. "They're doing that through a lot of the online services that offer ratings and reviews of different suppliers, retailers and manufacturers."

Forty-six percent of respondents to the Jupiter study said they read online reviews before making a purchase. "That's a fairly significant number," Gandhi said.

Source: eCommerce Times



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