Taking your website to the next level--and improving the shopping experience for your customers--is simpler than you think. The following low-cost tools are a cinch to deploy, so what are you waiting for?
One-call shopping: Great customer service is a must for any business, and a live sales agent who provides immediate customer support can help you get there. With Click-and-Connect, a web-initiated phone-to-phone service from Jaduka, e-tailers can easily add web-initiated click-and-connect technology to their sites to let users trigger a regular phone call from virtually any internet application. Once customers click on the "Click-and-Connect" button on a web page, Jaduka instantly connects them to a customer service or sales agent via their regular home, office or mobile phone. You can also add a "Click-and-Connect" button to outbound e-mails to improve response rates.
In addition to live phone leads, web-initiated calling delivers online marketing analytics that enable advertisers to track the effectiveness of campaigns in real time. The service is free for the first 60 minutes; it's $4.99 for an additional 60 minutes.
Web music: Want to add a little music to your website? Sonific allows merchants and consumers to select tracks from its library and create their own "SongSpots" that can be downloaded onto their site. The library contains thousands of songs, and users can even upload music they've created themselves. SongSpots are basically Flash objects that stream the selected music and can be quickly pasted onto websites, blogs, social network profile pages, eBay auctions and so on. Visitors not only hear the music, but can also click on the SongSpot logo to find out more about the artist or purchase the song from affiliates such as iTunes. Sonific is a free service--it makes money by offering targeted and strictly contextual advertising and by collecting commissions from e-commerce transactions that are generated by people clicking on the SongSpots.
Moving pictures: Another tool that makes e-merchants' multimedia dreams come true is PhotoShow.com, a service from San Francisco-based Simple Star that turns photos into rich, multimedia PhotoShows with credits, captions, special effects and music. "PhotoShows can be used to better showcase products and [make] the online shopping experience more interactive," says Chad Richard, 35, CEO and co-founder with Peter Rice, 33, of Simple Star.
"Entrepreneurs are already using PhotoShows to sell products on eBay or on their own sites." After they're created online, PhotoShows can be sent via e-mail or broadcast on a website, blog or social networking site like MySpace. While the basic service is free, customers can upgrade to the more robust PhotoShow5 for $39.99.
Video on demand: Web video is taking off--and more and more e-tailers are using webcasts to promote their products. If you want to dip your toe in the world of video, try IVT Studio from Interactive Video Technologies, a do-it-yourself video web-casting application that puts the power of webcasting into the hands of everyday business users. With the push of one "Publish" button, IVT Studio synchronizes PowerPoint slides and screen captures with your video. In a matter of minutes, you have a sleek, professional video webcast or podcast to share with your audience. Growing e-tailers can use webcasting to engage their customers in online events and promotions. Or you can use IVT Studio to create weekly content or "how-tos" to build brand recognition and loyalty and encourage shoppers to return to your website. A fully functional version of IVT Studio is available for free download, but for extended use, packages start at just $20 per month. You'll also need a microphone and a webcam (which range from $20 to $100) or camcorder (starting at $200).Melissa Campanelli, author of Open an Online Business in 10 Days (www.entrepreneurpress.com), is a marketing and technology writer in New York City.