E-Commerce Essentials

Keep 'Em Coming Back

Congratulations! You have a well-designed online storefront, offer quality products, follow good customer service practices and are fluent in the intricacies of online marketing. Site traffic is way up. Orders are pouring in.

But answer this: How are you going to keep customers coming back? If you're drawing a blank, your success might be short-lived. Without successful strategies for bringing in repeat business, Web shoppers will soon start to find your site B-O-R-I-N-G and buy elsewhere.

The solution? Quality content, easy-to-use features and frequent updates. Customers and prospects expect to find engaging content, value-added features and interactive opportunities. A stagnant site makes your business appear stale. In fact, the more your site changes, the more repeat customers you'll get.

According to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, ongoing site maintenance is key to bringing in customers. Currently, 25 percent of the fast-growing companies surveyed update their site information daily or weekly; 33 percent do so at least once a month.

As more customers become familiar with surfing and shopping the Web, expectations for up-to-date content and new-and-improved features continue to grow. The best Web sites engage visitors, provide access to crucial information and link to related sites of interest.

One easy way to boost site content is to check out community-based Web sites like GeoCities (http://www.geocities.com) and Tripod (http://www.tripod.com). These virtual communities host discussions and new content on a variety of topics, from art to drag racing and wine. Here, you can join a defined group, often referred to as a "neighborhood," that's related to your business. For instance, a wine retailer might want to join the Napa Valley neighborhood on GeoCities--and then establish a link to its own online storefront. That way, visitors can link directly to GeoCities from an e-tailer's site to find related information, participate in discussion groups and more.

To provide ongoing value, consider instituting games, contests or sweepstakes. Contests and sweepstakes are popular promotional tools on the Internet. Before you go this route, however, have an attorney read over the fine print regarding contest rules and be prepared to heavily promote your contest on the Web to get the most benefit.

Developing and distributing an online newsletter is another method for generating ongoing interest. Collect visitors' names and e-mail addresses with an on-site guestbook, and send them a copy. In your newsletter, promote new products, reveal your thoughts on industry developments, offer tips--do whatever you can do to pique customers' interests and spur them to return to your Web site to learn (and buy) more.

In the end, doing your best to build some sort of virtual community where customers can learn, share and grow will go a long way toward maintaining a successful site.

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