By Michael Lee, Director of Global Marketing, Alibaba.com
Online storefronts are a wonderful way to sell goods and services, but presentation is key: too many businesses fail to market their storefronts successfully.
Online storefronts have proven to be a cost-effective way to ring up more sales because they provide customers with self-service and self-ordering capabilities, which saves money and manpower. Those who don’t want to build their own online storefronts can join one of the many Web-based business directories—digital era versions of the Yellow Pages—which are great for boosting exposure and reach.
Unfortunately, B2B directories usually offer their members the same fixed-format template for their online storefronts, making it difficult to send a unique message or stand apart from the competition. So, while directories allow small businesses to set up shop on the Internet with minimal investment and no specialized Web knowledge, companies tend to settle for uninformative, unattractive storefronts that they fail to keep up to date.
To get an idea of the latest thinking in e-commerce marketing—and common pitfalls to avoid—we asked several international suppliers on Alibaba.com for some tips on how they maximize the marketing of their online storefronts.
Answer common customer questions upfront. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you probably know what most buyers want to know before they ask it. Save time and e-mails by using the home page of your online storefront as a FAQ machine.
Be transparent. Some suppliers are reluctant to disclose corporate information prominently on their online storefront because they don't want to tip their hand to the competition. But in conducting product searches, your potential customers must sift through a mountain of information from many companies. The more you disclose about your company up front, the better your chances of surviving the selection process.
“We recently took advantage of Alibaba.com’s new feature ‘minisite’ which allows a more customizable storefront template, complete with rotating top-of-page banners, photos and videos. A mini-site is more than an online storefront or a display window,” explains Tommy Zhou, international trade manager for Guangdong Yichao Biological, a China-based maker of chewable vitamins, capsules and candies. Putting that kind of useful information on the homepage “can help shorten the time required for initial communication and encourage buyers to send us inquiries more quickly,” Zhou says. “This way we can move to the order negotiation stage faster.”
Accentuate expertise. HDSafe Technologies, a Chinese maker of hands-free electronic faucets and flushing valves, is using its storefront to distinguish itself from competitors by highlighting the installation guidance and after-sales support the company offers to every customer.
Don’t set and forget. As with a brick-and-mortar shop, first impressions matter, and potential customers draw immediate conclusions when they visit your online storefront for the first time. If your online shelves are dusty and the messages are stale, customers are likely to move on to your competition. Don’t neglect routine page maintenance and updating. Merchandise featured in your digital shop window should be rotated regularly. Pay attention to the seasons and holidays, too. For example, don't feature air conditioners in the winter unless they're part of a clearance sale.
Details, Details. It is important to be detail-oriented in product descriptions. Make a pitch that plays to emotions—then tell customers what they need to know, including product functionalities, payment terms, minimum orders, packing options, etc. Pay attention to the keywords you use.
Keep it clean. When building a modern homepage, suppliers should communicate important points while at the same time avoiding information overload. Clean, pleasing page layouts and good design connotes professionalism. Cluttered presentations are more likely to confuse customers and drive them away.
As you can see, these international suppliers have “learned on the fly” how to build ecommerce sites that generate sales and help to recruit new customers. If you can avoid the common marketing pitfalls, you will be on your way to having a website that is an important driver of revenue for your business.