Some suggestions and ideas for developing a virtual online
community of customers for a virtual storefront Web site:
1. Set the right goals for the Web site store. Build a virtual
community of satisfied customers. The revenue will follow.
2. Understand the buyers' shopping experience and create
an appropriate environment for offering your products and
3. Get to know customers better through online and offline
- Word of mouth can be key to success.
- Find ways to encourage customers to share with others
what they have learned about your products and services.
Help your customers by creating chat groups and facilitating
- Provide a good place to browse. Make it interesting, compelling
and entertaining in the way you present your products or
- Try to attract the people who like to browse your category.
Link other sites that can send you potential customers.
- A relatively small number of expert shoppers can have
a large impact on your sales. Engage an expert in your field
to host a chat group or do a testimonial about your products
4. Advertising and promoting the store in the right venues
leads to increased sales. Know your niche and go after it.
5. Understand the options available to your virtual server.
- More than 50 percent of the top sites on the Web today
are hosted by hosting services. Do not think that you have
to host your site in-house. Realize there will be many cases
when your Web server is up and operating, yet customers
cannot connect to it. This is most often caused by heavy
traffic loads on the Net or a down mode between your server
and the customer.
- A virtual online community Web site can provide online
advertising, a product showcase, or a channel for customer
- The biggest benefit the Internet adds to the mall concept
is that, regardless of where the virtual stores are located,
the store owner can have the appearance of being in the
mall by getting hyper linked to it. This enables stores
to be in more than one virtual mall without opening branch
Different Credit Cards
While MasterCard and Visa are the two cards shoppers use most,
clever sites offer as many options as possible, including
American Express, Discover, and (for international users)
the JCB card. Unfortunately, each card has its own method
of collecting and reconciling purchases, as well as special
start-up procedures. Whether or not your company already accepts
credit cards, you'll need to bring your finance department
into this process early. One major international company discovered
partway into its site's development that it only could accept
checks. The resulting delays to the Web site cost the firm
tens of thousands of dollars.
Find the Right Bank
Before accepting credit cards, you'll need what's called an
acquiring bank to handle the credit card processing services.
In many cases, your regular bank can handle this for you.
Be aware that each acquiring bank uses a different method
to charge for the service of translating digital records into
cold cash--usually a percentage of total sales, known as a
discount rate--so shop around.
At the end of each month, your Web site orders will have to
be reconciled with statements from the credit card companies.
Thus, be sure your e-commerce software has good reporting
tools that allow you to separate Visa and American Express
orders, for example.
Store Credit Card Data Carefully
Storing credit card data helps make purchasing easier, but
you have to be careful not to arouse consumer fears. You need
good planning; strong communications; and, a solid, secure,
end-to-end architecture. Before you accept the first encrypted
transaction, have all of the servers and networks checked
by trusted MIS security personnel. Nothing will destroy your
company's reputation--and your customer's trust--faster than
stolen credit card information. Misinformation in the mainstream
media means you'll have to go the extra step to make your
users feel safe.
Your site should store credit card numbers only when customers
login with a username and password. Storing credit card numbers
in URLs is unacceptable from a security standpoint. Credit
card data must be encrypted on a secure server, which should
be architecturally separate from your public Web server. Be
sure to provide proper offline security for lost passwords.
And ask yourself some tough questions: How are you going to
update the credit card data? How will you positively identify
users asking for lost passwords?
When evaluating e-commerce software, look for user-friendly
administrative interfaces in this area--you shouldn't have
to call a programmer every time someone loses a password.
Fortunately, dozens of e-commerce software packages now include
credit card processing. Some of the leaders are listed below:
CyberCash's CashRegister: end-user "wallet" software
(allows secure payments using their proprietary method), plus
payment processing software; runs on Solaris, NT, SGI Irix,
HP-UX, BSDI, Free BSD, Digital Unix, SCO, Aix, and Linux RedHat;
and works with most major e-commerce server software. IBM's
Net.Commerce: end-to-end e-commerce solution; runs on NT and
AIX (with Solaris and AS/400 ports "coming soon");
and works with most major Web server software. ICVerify: standalone
credit card processing software; runs on DOS, Windows, and
some Unix versions; and works with Microsoft Site Server.
Netscape CommerceXpert: end-to-end commerce solution (formerly
Actra); components run on Solaris and NT. VeriFone Internet
Commerce: industry-leading standalone electronic-payment processing
software; works with most major e-commerce applications, though
some components run on Windows NT only.
Ordering and Fulfillment Tips
Web builders often gloss over how customers will actually
order their products--not to mention how those products will
Navigation to and from the product and ordering pages is critical,
but not always fully considered. Exactly how will users get
from the home page to a product page to the shopping list
to the credit card order entry screen? Less obviously, how
will they get back to the product page if they forgot to choose
something? More a brute force effort than a technical challenge,
order fulfillment and tracking requires smart systems that
are able to talk with one another.
Service and Support Tips
Without question, the keys to customer loyalty are around-the-clock,
Internet-savvy customer and postsales support. Once the order
is committed, users should be immediately thanked onscreen--and
have their orders confirmed. You'd be amazed at how many e-commerce
sites simply can't be bothered to say, "Thank you."
Instead, they display a coldly generic Return To Shopping
Another key component of customer loyalty is trust. Make a
point of telling your Web site visitors exactly what you're
doing with the data you collect.
There are a lot of concern about about consumer privacy due
to the rise in identity theft. Post a clear, concise and honest
to find and understand. Do not weigh it down with "legalizes".
If you need to gather visitor's names, addresses or other
vital information for any reason make sure you state what
purpose it will be used for as well as if it will be shared
with any other affiliates, businesses, representative or others.
Include links to any of the businesses or affiliates that
you might need to share information with so that your visitors
and customers can check out their policies as well.
Download Our: Beginners
Guide to Owning a Web Site
This FREE PDF booklet contains important information for anyone
new to establishing a new web site. It includes information
about what to look for in a hosting company, the steps to
getting a merchant account as well as marketing & site
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