How to sell online

In the days before the Internet, if you wanted to sell direct to customers, you needed to build a shop or establish a mail-order business using catalogues. Doing so would require the outlay of many thousands, if not millions, of dollars. With the arrival of the Web, you now have an inexpensive sales channel that gives access to millions of consumers worldwide. The Web provides an exciting commercial opportunity - provided you adhere to several important rules...

1. Be sure online selling is for you.

As a general rule, whatever can be sold in a print catalogue can also be sold on a website. But if a customer has to see, hold, or try something before buying, neither avenues are appropriate. Remember, when it comes to selling on the Web, it's not where you are, but what you're selling and how attractively you present the offer that count. The key is to select a niche small enough for you to dominate. For example, you may be hard-pressed to compete with Amazon.com in selling books; you may succeed, however, by specialising in books on folk poetry. One obvious way to dominate the market is to be the manufacturer. That way, you cut out all the middlemen who eat into your profits.

2. Ensure your site looks inviting.

Your website needs to inspire visitors with confidence. Consumers are reluctant to buy from an amateurish site; if your organisation cannot put up a good website, then potential customers will assume, rightly or wrongly, that you cannot deliver good products or services either.

3. Make sure your site is easy to use.

Internet users can be spooked very easily; potential customers or clients will leave at the slightest obstacle, e.g. having to register, or confusion over navigation, or an inability to find the product they seek on the site.

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