E-Commerce & Streaming Media: A Marriage that Works

In the heavily populated world of E-Commerce, what determines whose site will be successful and whose won't?

Is it the layout and design of the basic site? No. We all know of sites where no expense was spared on design and the company still failed to produce a commercial success.

Is it the product offering? No. We all know of sites where the product offering was more than adequate, the pricing competitive, and service was acceptable, yet success was elusive.

Is it a traffic problem? No. We read letters everyday in forums and discussion groups from those whose sites generate a lot of traffic, but sales volume is only marginal.

What determines success is the ability to stand out in a crowded field! What determines success is making your site different from your competitors. What determines success is the way in which you present your offering so visitors will want to stay at your site and buy from you.

Purchasing decisions are not simple ones. It doesn't matter if you're targeting consumers or business buyers. People seek ways to make their buying decisions easier. It is up to you to:

· Learn what your customer wants

· Highlight the features and benefits that appeal to the customer.

· Present your product in a way that differentiates you from your competition and utilizes your product knowledge.

How do you accomplish this in a meaningful way that doesn't drain your marketing budget? Utilize streaming media to capture your audience's attention and to focus on the aspects of your product that will generate a sale.

Let's use an Internet store that specializes in southwestern pottery as a hypothetical example. We'll go on the assumption that the store has an attractive website with good navigation and a secure shopping cart system. The return policy is clearly stated, and there is specific contact information. On the site is a nicely laid out catalogue with good product descriptions, small, fast loading graphics (which can be enlarged for a closer inspection) and a well-designed price list. The products are grouped by type (urns, bowls, vases etc.) so that a visitor can browse easily. A perfect Internet shopping experience, right?

The answer is only a qualified "yes" because this store is no different than several hundred others selling the same merchandise.

What can this store owner do to make shopping at his site exciting, fun, and memorable?

· Use a short audio to introduce southwestern pottery to the visitor. What are its' special characteristics? Why is it different than pottery produced in other regions?

· Show visitors where the pottery originates with a slide show. Use pictures of the artisan's studio and the area that surrounds it. Coordinate the slides with a script that describes the geography and how it contributed to the style of pottery shown.

· Interview several of the artisans on videotape. Let them tell your visitors about themselves and their work.

· Have a pottery collector talk about the use of color as it relates to southwestern pottery.

· Do a video as a cross promotion with a local interior designer. Describe and show how to best use southwestern pottery as part of a complete decorating scheme.

· Use video to show the actual creation of some of your better pieces. Take your visitors inside the artist's studio for an "up close" look.

You might even be able to generate revenue with some of your original programming. Sell commercial spots within the presentation to other merchants who offer products that are complementary to yours. (This can be as simple as inserting a graphic.) Work with these same merchants to promote local events that highlight the products of your area. Your local Chamber of Commerce might even want to purchase a spot in one of your streaming presentations.

For an E-commerce site with affiliates, use streaming media to help your member sites. Put together a slide show that gives participating members a chance to briefly highlight their own sites for a small fee. Use two to three graphics from each member and have relevant text from each member scroll by as their store appears in the show. Not only do you recoup some of your production costs from the advertising, but you also get your sales commission when member sales increase!

Streaming media should not be used arbitrarily, however. Unless your material is relevant to your visitors and adds perceived value to their purchase, don't waste your time or theirs. When designing your streaming media presentation, ask yourself what it will accomplish that your current content doesn't. Will it complement your existing material? Will it be utilized to enhance your offering? Will it provide additional incentive to make your visitor buy?

If you can answer yes to those questions, streaming media should be a strong candidate for your marketing dollars. Use streaming media technology wisely, and it will go a long way to making your E-commerce site stand out in a very crowded field.

Ronni Rhodes is the owner of WBC Imaging, an Internet company that specializes in web site enhancement utilizing streaming media technology. With her husband, Don, a digital media engineer, they work with companies to incorporate streaming as part of successful and meaningful sales and marketing programs.

Please direct all questions and comments to:
[email protected]

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