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Will It Work Online? A Frequent Query
7th December 2009
I met with a client this weekend who presented his business to me and we talked about how to setup an ecommerce solution. Like many other prospective and existing clients he asked me 'Will it work online?'. I personally feel any business can make it work online. Its just a matter of strategy and time.

Lets look at both, strategy and time.

Strategy: Picking the right strategy is the most important part of going online. Many times clients try to copy what another business is doing or try to copy their brick and mortar business wholesale online. Both strategies may or may not work, but most often they dont. Nothing beats a well thought out tailormade solution for going online.

What are the factors that dictate the strategy you choose?

  • What parts of the business easily translate online and which ones should remain in the physical entity (which I shall call offline now). Trying to transfer all the elements of the business online rarely works.
  • Is it going to help existing customers as well? Businesses so often are hunting for new customers that they forget that they might be able to give thier existing customers a better experience online as well.
  • Is the online process straight forward or do you have to do handstands and convulted processes to try and fit the offline model to the online world. Sometimes a business simply has to invent new process for their websites seperate from their offline processes. It could also end up benefiting the business the otherway around.
  • Can some of the online features eliminate some of the offline chores or processes. This works well for customer support and followup processing.
  • And finally the mother of all points, is there really demand for your product online?

Time: Many products take a long time to catch up with demand online. Sometimes it take an evangilical belief in your website and tons of patience till you achive traffic justifying the time and cost of the website. Will it take 1 month, 2 months, 6 months or a year? Maybe more? Depends on your promotion budget, SEO, word of mouth and plain dumb luck.

Over time your website might or might not become a blockbuster but it can always become a handy complementary tool for your offline business .

Assessing Demand

Assessing demand for your product online can be a tricky devil. You might do research which indicates that the demand is great but after launch you might end up swatting flies.

Some ways to access online demand

  • Google Adwords Sandbox: This is a handy tool to find out how many people are searching for the keywords related to your products and hence how many visitors you can expect once you start your SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
  • Ask your core customers: This in my view is one of the best ways. Your core customers who are loyal to you also match the profile of your ideal target prospects. If they feel going online for services is not a problem then chances are your core prospects might also feel the same. But if your core customers do shoot it down, don't abandon the idea, they just might be behind the curve a bit and might join the bandwagon once you launch the site.
  • Send out sample surveys: Get your hands on an email list of your industry and send out a sample survey (tagged with a small gift for taking the survey) and ask the relevant questions. You might be surprised by the response. Make sure you leave room in your survey to accept ideas and pain points.

All the research and surveys and planning and strategy cannot replace the real thing. Weigh the risks and costs, enter softly at first, test the waters and slowly build up your online services. Discard what does not work and retain and enhance which does.

Some common sense and a reality check will be more effective than the latest technologies or brilliant idea.

Cheers,
Ron

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