Did you know that the word “e-tailer” was coined as early as 1995? An e-tailer is a retailer that primarily uses the Internet as a medium for customers to shop for goods and/or services provided.
There are two types of e-tailer, one category whereby e-commerce is the only operation undertaken by the company; examples of such organizations include e-Bay and Amazon. The other type includes e-commerce as part of their overall marketing strategy, whilst still having a physical, ‘bricks and mortar’ core, whereby customers can still go in and purchase the goods/services.

Companies who operate purely as ecommerce stores are able to achieve greater profit margins, due to their set up and operational costs being much lower than that of a traditional store. They do not have to pay any rent on a building. Although they still often have to pay for their Web Hosting, the cost here is much less as there are no added rates for such overheads as water, electricity, gas, etc. Labour costs are significantly less as one person could realistically run a website, package goods and answer enquiries via email. This is of course unlikely to be the case when a full time store is involved. On top of these price differences, an online store can be viewed/accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from only one location.

It is becoming essential for retailers to have at least some form of internet based access, whether this is a site whereby goods/services can actually be purchased, or purely informational, so customers can preview products and gather information on the store in general (for example, their nearest retailer or company phone number/contact details) before they visit.

When a Website is Not Enough

E-tailers must realize that it is not enough to simply have an aesthetically pleasing web site, which is full of product information alongside great photos and detailed product reviews. Whilst this is all well and good, it’s also useless without sufficient knowledge of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in order to target the necessary traffic towards the site. Even something as simple as an appropriate domain name can have a huge impact on the number of people visiting your site. Domain names should be kept small and concise, preferably without a hyphen, as people tend to forget these and this could lead to them being sent directly to your competitor! Word of mouth advertising is priceless, so using an address that sounds exactly how it is spelt can work wonders for spreading positive information.

SEO and SEM practices change regularly, and there is no guarantee that any particular methods will work. The best way to ensure a good ranking on the search engines is to employ an ‘expert’ to work full time at increasing the chances of traffic being directed to your website. It is also worthwhile spending the extra time and money on making sure your company is well represented within the search engine rankings, and chasing that all important #1 spot.

Have an Internet Strategy in Place

e-Tailers have to constantly bear in mind, develop and stick to a sound Internet strategy. Whether retailers decide on a basic "brochureware" site or a full e-commerce portal with shopping cart functionality, scalability is key. Some of the latest sites may look sensational, but often there has been no real thought put into their ultimate purpose, target market or future development. By not matching site goals with their overall business strategy, actively promoting the site or researching who their target on-line market is, these retailers are risking a huge investment of time and money. Also, unless their web site is designed to grow and develop in line with the changing business requirements, retailers could be left with a very expensive lemon.

Promote, Promote, Promote

Just because you have done your research as an e-Tailer and built then launched what may be the world's best web site, doesn't mean that you will have customers beating down your virtual door. Professional search engine registration and announcement of the site launch via on-line and traditional off-line marketing and advertising channels is crucial to getting "hits" on the site. Companies need to include their site URL on all corporate stationary, branded material, signage, advertisements and promotional merchandise. E-tailers should also consider implementing a direct marketing / P.R. campaign or a special advertisement to inform customers about their new site. Training sales teams and other staff to promote the site at every opportunity is also very important. For on-line promotions, e-tailers can hire professional Internet marketers to develop banner ads and email newsletters or negotiate portal partnerships or reciprocal link agreements.

With the current e-tail boom and the Internet dramatically changing the way the world does business, retailers who ignore e-commerce will soon be forced to sit up and take notice.

By Shanti Anne Morais