Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Digging Into the Web


August 11, 2010
By Michelle Brisebois

Topics

A high-powered human resources executive said to me a few years ago, “I
can’t get over those candidates who insist on listing “proficiency in
Microsoft Word and Excel” as skills on their resumés. In this day and
age, it’s like saying you know how to use a pencil!” In retailing terms –
this rationale still holds true.

A high-powered human resources executive said to me a few years ago, “I can’t get over those candidates who insist on listing “proficiency in Microsoft Word and Excel” as skills on their resumés. In this day and age, it’s like saying you know how to use a pencil!” In retailing terms – this rationale still holds true. Asking yourself whether or not it’s time to create a website is like wondering if you should have a telephone.

Websites are no longer “nice-to-haves” – they are critical to facilitating the consumer experience. However, while it may be necessary to have a website, all sites are not created equal and it’s important that you find the right fit for your business objectives. Prior to launching your website, there is a needs assessment you should do to help focus your efforts. The following outline will help guide this process and in the end, help you choose the best web strategy for your operation.

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Websites have now become a must-have for businesses. With just a few clicks of a mouse, your customer can gain valuable information about your operation, track down your location and learn more about the top-notch product you have to offer.


Decide which elements you need
The first thing you need to do is define what information or elements are a must-have on your website. You will need to clearly outline your hours of operation, phone number, fax and snail and e-mail addresses. Include a spot where users can click on for a pop-up Google Map to show where your store is located. If you have revised hours for Sundays, holidays or summer – update your website to clearly reflect this. If you have a store blog where you talk about landscaping trends and upcoming workshops, make sure it’s linked from the home page of your site. Include buttons that allow visitors to bookmark your site, forward to a friend and link to your site through social networking sites such as Facebook. This will reinforce your brand and generate positive buzz about your services. Make sure you check for e-mail questions frequently and that you respond to questions promptly.

What do you want your website to do?
This may seem like an obvious question but it really isn’t. Websites can range from static online brochures to full-blown retail sites with online shopping capabilities. Do you want your customers to browse through your selection online but call you directly to place an order or would you like to enable your customers to purchase products via the web? There’s nothing wrong with having a website that showcases your products, services and contact information. This will allow customers to browse your product offering at their own leisure.

However, if you feel your customers are interested in shopping online, then setting up your site to do so might be a worthy investment. Consumers are shopping online more than ever.  Emarketer.com reports that Canadian retailers sold $13.8 billion of consumer products and travel bookings online in 2007. By 2012 Canadian business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce sales are projected to reach $22.8 billion. That’s a compounded annual growth rate of more than 10 per cent per year.

Could online ordering open new streams of revenue?
There are many professional website design companies that can set up your site for e-commerce. If you decide to go the e-commerce route independently, you need to ensure that you make online shopping easy and secure for your customer. The good news is that implementing an online ordering system is easier than you think.

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“There are many online merchant accounts that provide an online payment gateway such as PayPal,” points out Ivy Wong of Splash Interactive, a Toronto-based website design company. “Yahoo’s small business service provides web hosting and merchant solutions that allow small business owners to build their own online stores using Yahoo’s tools. Hosting companies such as Network Solutions offer e-commerce solutions as well. The advantage with these solutions is that the security issues are all handled at their end – you simply offer a portal for the consumer to shop on your site. Most of these solutions offer a per transaction fee plan, so it’s more cost effective than setting up your own merchant account including a monthly fee. If you’re just starting down the path to online ordering, this may be the perfect first step,” confirms Wong.

PayPal is an online payment program that allows money transfers to be made over the Internet. The program is linked to eBay and therefore widely used already by many consumers who buy off of the popular online auction site. If you choose to implement full-fledged e-commerce using a custom solution for your business, make sure the credit card information is purged regularly so sensitive information won’t be vulnerable. Both PayPal and a customized solution will allow you to store customer order patterns and to set up profiles so customers don’t have to re-enter contact information and other preferences.

Make your site work for you
You’re selling your creativity so show it! Invest in high-quality photographs of your most innovative landscaping designs or container garden recipes and write enticing descriptions of each one. If you’ve decided not to offer online ordering on your site, you still want the customer to pick up that phone to place an order with you immediately after visiting your website. Think of it as a virtual store. Organize your products by lifestyle segment or colour. Most likely, showcasing your products and services by price category will help customers locate their desired product group quickly. If you know that hostas are one of the most popular plants purchased, do feature them prominently on your site. Consider having a section of “bestsellers” or “trendy new colour stories.” Don’t bother with too much romantic or lengthy text – just enough to get them interested. Wong advises that retailers keep copy to a minimum as it can bog down the ordering process. She says people prefer sites that are very clean and straightforward.
 
Do not try this at home
There’s no substitute for expert advice and when it comes to web design and e-commerce initiatives, it’s worth every penny to hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Most interactive consulting firms will work within your budget and there’s a business out there that is a good fit size-wise for your business. Keep in mind: you wouldn’t advise your webmasters to design their own gardens without any advice or prior horticulture knowledge so take a page from your own book and hire a professional. It will all “click” into place much faster.


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