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Web Marketing Today
Issue 18, July 27, 1996


Welcome to Issue 18 of Web Marketing Today, sent to nearly 9,000 subscribers throughout the world.

In this issue

Selling Products Directly on the Web

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Getting people to your Web site is important. But selling them something during their visit is even more important. If direct on-line sales is your objective, at least four elements are vital for you to consummate a sale at your Web site:

Reason to Buy Now

Your shopper will need to find a reason to buy now. These reasons are both positive and negative.

On the one hand you'll need to anticipate your shopper's objections. Is she concerned you won't ship in time to wrap a sliver tray for her friend's anniversary party? Describe your shipping policies. You might include a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page for issues that come up again and again.

One of the chief reasons people hesitate to do business with Wilson Internet Services, for example, is the perception that they can't easily work with a business half a continent away. We use a map to highlight our clients in 24 states, three provinces of Canada, and Indonesia. We point to our on-line worksheets and contracts, provide a hot-linked list of our clients, and try to respond to contacts quickly by e-mail or telephone. We anticipate a customer's objection.

But negatives don't sell a product; you need to give your visitors some compelling reasons to buy. One way, of course is to describe your product as fully as necessary to acquaint your customer with its benefits and features. A catalog like L.L. Bean's makes me want to purchase a heavy flannel shirt. Sure, everyone knows what flannel is. But hearing about its fiber-dyed, heavy cotton fabric with a hand-sewn lining for long life makes it much more compelling. While graphics are important, you have to help your customer rub the flannel between his fingers and feel its softness through your own words. Tell him how warm it'll make him feel on cold winter nights under the twinkling stars.

It's one thing to make your customer want to purchase, it's another to give him a compelling reason to purchase now. Retailers have always been holding sales, and offering "limited quantity" items "only while supplies last." Direct mail marketers get you involved making choices, placing stickers, and looking at the inevitable folded note to be read only if you're not sure you should purchase this limited set of four golden oldies CDs. Cyber merchants need to learn the on-line equivalent of end-cap displays, two-for-one offers, etc. Right now, retail sales on the Web are in a state of adaptation and experimentation. Don't be afraid to explore -- and keep exploring until you hit upon a winning formula.

Ultimately, your customers will purchase for a combination of three reasons: value, price, and convenience. Because on-line costs may be lower than either storefront or catalog merchandising, you may be able to compete strongly on the basis of price. Small businesses do well to specialize in products in a particular niche, like gymnastic equipment or quilting supplies, then offer their customers the very best products, values, and selection that can be found anywhere. But if purchasing is a hassle, you still won't consummate many sales.

Ease of purchase

Think of the Web as the equivalent of the ultimate catalog sales destination of the next decade. Your customer doesn't have to leave her home, she can look at a wide variety of products, and browse shops up and down the bandwidth. To get her to make a purchase in your store, you need to make it extremely easy to make a purchase when she's ready.

It is inherently inconvenient to force your customer to move from her computer to her telephone to order. Most people at home use the same line for their modem as they do for their telephone, so ordering will mean going off-line. Printing out a form to fax or mail necessitates the same diversion from a smooth ordering process. Whereas on-line ordering takes advantage of the customer's spur-of-the-moment desire to buy, forcing off-line order completion allows the ardor to cool or the buyer to become distracted. To sell consumer products successfully you need to allow them to order on-line.

This means giving real attention to the ordering process. How hard is it to place an order? Is the order form clear? Do you require the customer to write down product names from one Web page and enter them on the order form on another, or do you provide a shopping cart program so a customer can place an order from the page on which he sees the product? Ask Internet-newbie friends to make practice purchase on your Web site, and then solicit careful feedback about their points of confusion. Make it simple!

Give must them a reason to buy -- now -- and make it easy. But to get them to plunk down their money, they need to trust you.


In Walt Disney's "The Rescuers," the cruel villainess Madame Medusa explains softly to her intelligence-challenged sidekick, "Snoops, you don't have a way with children. You must gain their confidence, make them like you…."

"Yea, how do you do that?" he asks innocently.

"You force them to like you, Idiot!" she screams.

You need to gain your customers' confidence. After all, if they send you money and you don't deliver as promised, it'll be a big hassle to recover their money despite of the legal protections of credit card purchases. How do you "force" your customers to like you? Chat with them. Don't write in stiff formal sentences, but in short, informal language, just as if they were sitting across the table from you.

The larger corporation garners trust by name recognition and listing achievements in the marketplace. The small business person gains trust by just "talking" to Jennifer about the business. Tell her your story. Explain how you and your partner have dreamed of making highly refined emu oil available to customers around the world. Tell them a bit about yourself, your background, your experience, your experience with emu breeding during a college semester in Queensland, or whatever sparked you to be in this business.

Unless you are intensely ugly, a photo might help Jennifer feel that she knows you and you'll treat her right. Ask some satisfied customers to write a few lines about their experience doing business with you. Testimonials enable customers see you as an honest, reliable, person, and are the next best thing to word-of-mouth.

But unless Jennifer trusts the safety of her credit card purchase, she won't complete the transaction even if she likes you.


In 1995 the media went out of its way to warn the public of evil hackers prowling on the sidewalk just outside your on-line store waiting to grab your customer's credit card numbers as soon as an order was made. It didn't matter that robbing Swiss bank accounts would be more lucrative for cyber thieves than lurking outside Goldfish Online. Nor did the lack of verifiable incidents credit card theft on the Internet deter the media. It's the perception of danger, not the reality that faces the on-line merchant. But the perception has become the reality for your customers.

By the end of the year I expect the credit card companies' SET standards to be in place and hyped by a carefully orchestrated media blitz. But right now there are two things you can do to help your customers feel secure enough to place an order:

  1. Run your store on an SSL secure server. This is much more widely available now than it was a few months ago. Expect to pay your ISP $20 to $50 more per month for this feature, in addition to a hefty set up fee to cover the $290 VeriSign RSA security certificate you'll need. Face it. You have to get a secure server if you're serious about on-line sales.
  2. Provide an encrypted method to transmit the order to you. You can secure your front door with a dozen locks, but if you don't latch the back door, a burglar has easy access. It's amazing that many store owners offer SSL encryption of orders from the customer to the store, but absolutely no encryption when the order is e-mailed from the server to the store owner's personal e-mail access. To act with integrity we must encrypt the information whenever it is passed via e-mail. Fortunately, Phil Zimmerman's PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is easily available in North America both as freeware for non-commercial use and as well-supported commercial software from ViaCrypt.

Then once you secure your front and back doors, be sure to explain to Jennifer how really safe her credit information is.

If you can make Jennifer feel secure about ordering from you, "force" her to trust you, make it simple for her to select your products, and give her a good reason to buy now, your Web site sales are likely to skyrocket.

We invite you to react or read reactions to this article on the Web Marketing Forum at http://www.wilsoninet.com/HyperNews/get/forum/money.html

A Wealth of Articles

New readers to Web Marketing Today will find a wealth of information available at our Web Marketing Info Center. The following articles, many of them from former issues of WMT, are linked to: http://www.wilsonweb.com/articles/

  • 12 Web Page Design Decisions Your Business Will Need to Make
  • Can Small Office, Home Office (SOHO) Entrepreneurs Compete with Big Corporations on the Web?
  • Does Your Business Need A Custom Domain Name?
  • Does Your Company Need Its Own Web Server Computer?
  • Getting Customers to Plunk Down their Credit Cards
  • Give Something Away, Sell Something: the Classic Web Marketing Strategy
  • How Does a Shopping Cart Program Work?
  • How to Attract Visitors to Your Web Site
  • How to Shop for an ISP for your Business Web Pages
  • Is Your Product a Good Candidate for Web Success?
  • The Link Site Marketing Strategy
  • Marketing via E-Mail Newsletters and Mailing Lists
  • Multiple Doors of Entry: A Strategy to Increase Visitors to Your Web Site
  • Niche Marketing on the Web
  • Outgrowing a Simple Order Form, or How to Know Whether You Need a Shopping Cart Program
  • Questions Small Businesses Ask about the Internet
  • Should You Locate Your Store in a Mall?
  • Should You Outsource Your Web Pages or Do Them Yourself?
  • Software Needed for E-Mail Conferencing
  • Using Banner Ads to Promote Your Web Site
  • What a Web Site Can Do for Your Business
  • What Is the Purpose of Your Web Site?
  • Why in the World Should Anyone Come to Your Web Site?

Single copies are free. Contact us concerning a license to reprint an article for circulation within your organization. If you're looking for an article for your industry periodical, I might be induced to adapt one of these for your particular field. As dates firm up I'll also let you know about conferences where I will be speaking this fall and winter.

Web Marketing Forum Report

You'll find several threads being discussed in our new Web Marketing Forum. This two-week-old infant is growing well.

But please: this is to be a discussion of topics. Don't abuse us all by using it to blatantly push your product or service! Be possessed of proper netiquette by learning to use a creative "signature.". And please post your comment in only one of the topic pages. Thank you.

Links of Interest to Web Marketers

You'll find these references hot-linked in the on-line version of this newsletter, as well as by topic in the Web Marketing Info Center. In response to several Mac readers we are now enclosing URLs in angle brackets instead of parentheses. Enjoy!

Plug for Wilson Internet Services

Give something away …

  • Web Marketing Info Center. Links to nearly 350 articles and resources of interest to Web marketers. The biggest collection of its kind -- by far -- on the Internet. In addition our Web site is populated by many articles I have written.

  • Web Marketing Today Newsletter. A free bi-weekly e-mail newsletter currently sent to nearly 9,000 subscribers throughout the world. Back issues are available on-line.

    "Web Marketing Today is a straight-talking, idea-sparking, lead-generating, myth-erasing, tank-filling wellspring of common sense and sound advice on Internet marketing. An outstanding resource for Web marketers at all levels." -- Garrett Wasny
  • Web Marketing Forum. A new Web board feature to enable Web marketers to share questions, tips, and opinions.

… Sell something

  • Standard Web site packages. Prices are: single page Web site, $275; 6-page Web site, $795; 12-page Web site, $1,330; 20-page Web site, $1,895.00. We try to include everything the small business will need except for Internet Service Provider fees.

  • On-Line Retail Stores. Our stores feature state-of-the-art Mercantec SoftCart shopping cart software and ViaCrypt PGP encryption (if you desire to receive orders via e-mail).

  • Consulting for Corporate Solutions. When your needs exceed small business packages, we'll tailor our services to help you provide custom solutions. We offer telephone consulting, as well as a limited amount of on-site consulting. This fall and winter we will be speaking at several conferences.

We hope you'll become one of our valued clients. You'll find that our philosophy is to delight the client, to give you more than expected. Please e-mail us at rfwilson@wilsonweb.com or telephone us at (916) 652-4659, Monday-Friday, 7 am to 4 pm Pacific Time.

© 1996, Ralph F. Wilson, all rights reserved. Please do not reprint or host this information on your Web site without specific permission from the copyright holder. Thank you.

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Wilson Internet Services -- Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, Director -- rfwilson@wilsonweb.com
Web Site Design - On-line Stores - Consulting -- http://www.wilsonweb.com
(916) 652-4659 -- Mon-Fri, 7 am-4 pm Pacific Time
P.O. Box 308, Rocklin, California 95677, USA

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