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The "Big Five" of Online Shopping

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Customers expect your online business to offer the right combination of selection, price, service, convenience, and security. You don't? That's okay - you probably have plenty of competitors who are just a click away. Your customers can shop there instead.
This article was adapted from Frank Fiore's book, TechTV's Starting an Online Business. Frank is a regular contributor to InformIT.
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To paraphrase former U.S. President Bill Clinton, "It's the customer, stupid."

Shoppers don't care about your site, your business, or your life. What they care about is themselves. When they come to your site, they want to see if there's anything there that interests them. They want to know, "What's in it for me?" They come to your web store with a certain set of expectations. Your job as a web merchant is to meet those expectations.

Your customers expect to find what they came for: a fair price, a good selection of products, great service, and a secure and safe place to shop. In other words, they're looking for the Big Five of online shopping. And if they're from "out of town"—that is, another country—they're also looking for a site that speaks their language!

Everything on your site should be about the customer and designed from the customer's point of view. Your customer not only needs a reason to buy, but a way to buy easily and safely.

Customers want to know right away if their visit to your site is going to save them time and money, and if their shopping experience will be pleasant. Can they find what they want easily? Can they place an order in a variety of ways? Can they find your customer service pages, shipping and handling fees, and return policies without spending a large amount of time digging through your site?

These are the customer's expectations, and you have to meet them if you want your online business to be a success. If your site is designed with the Big Five of online shopping in mind, you'll provide your customers a pleasant shopping experience and a reason to buy from your online store again.

The Big Five of online shopping are selection, price, service, convenience, and security.

Selection: Do You Have What They Want?

Shoppers come to the Net for the vast selection of products and services that are available at the click of a mouse. Whether shoppers find you through search engines, store directories, through your own marketing and promotion, or by some other means, after they arrive at your site they want to know that you have what they're looking for. Don't build an impression in the shopper's mind that you sell computer software or have an online bookstore and then offer only a small selection of titles.

When building a small to medium-sized business, you need to focus your product or service offering. Look at your unique selling position (USP). If crafted correctly, it indicates the market you're targeting and the unique product or service you're selling. If you've done your homework and created a compelling unique selling position, the shopper will feel that your web store offers the best selection on the Net.

Offering a good selection to shoppers is not necessarily a numbers game. The quality of your selection is much more important for a small web business than the quantity. The following are some examples of small sites that work in large product categories, yet deliver a good selection of product offerings for their market.

Music Stores

You don't have to be a CDNOW or an Amazon.com to be successful selling music CDs on the web. click4stuff.com sells hard-to-find CD sets. Shoppers that come to their web store will find a good product selection specializing in hard-to-find classic music CD sets. They organize their offerings into three-CD sets, focusing on subjects like jazz, disco, country, and pop. Aramusic sells Arabic music CDs from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. And Harmony Marketplace carries the best in barbershop music on CDs.

Software Stores

You don't have to be NECX or CompUSA to sell software competitively on the Net. You can offer a specialized range of software to shoppers and still give them a good selection in the category you choose. AccountingShop sells only accounting software, whereas Natara Software carries productivity software for the Palm handheld platform.

Pet Stores

The large pet stores on the Net, such as Petco and PETsMART, carry a wide variety of pet supplies for all kinds of pets. But a small store like BunnyLuv offers a nice selection of rabbit care supplies, toys, hay, food, and grooming tools. A shopper who comes to their site would be pleased with the selection of products in that subject area. Houndz in the Hood offers only coats for dachshunds, miniatures, whippets, and Italian greyhounds. As you can see, you can run with the big dogs of e-commerce if you choose your product or service well and deliver the best selection in that category.

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