While retailers have scrambled to open virtual stores, albeit reluctantly, few businesses have as yet turned over a profit from their sites.
However, Web development company Activ Australia believes it can solve the problem.
According to Activ's co-director, Simon Laver, making a profit from an Internet shop boils down to the correct mix of four issues; supply, marketing, distribution and Web design and implementation.
`Issues such as product supply, preparation and pricing are already firmly within the knowledge base of successful experienced retailers with bricks-and-mortar stores.
`Retailers are at a significant advantage to non-retailers when opening online shops because they have refined supply chains, established customers, products of demand and proven marketing strategies.
He said to achieve success online, retailers must advertise and market offline.
Customers listen to radio, watch TV, read newspapers and magazines and see billboard advertising. Hence advertising through these mediums can broaden their marketing reach.
Just as important is an efficient distribution mechanism, Laver said. Those retailers without a distribution model in place have to research the best method of delivering their products within 48 hours to compete.
Laver, whose expertise is in Web development, said the last crucial element is the design of the Web site, which as a guide should contain the following features:
The web software must integrate with existing systems such as billing and warehousingThe site must help the user, be fast, simply presented with clear identifiable images and the layers in the site easily navigatedThe site must be easy to maintain, allowing administration staff to update as requiredThe retailer must implement the best payment gateway for themselves and the customerThe site must protect the security and privacy of customers and the retailerThe retailer must check copyright on products exhibited.
Steve Costi, who is about to launch a virtual online fish shop (see page 32), said he wanted his Web visitors to have the same experience as if they entered a physical shop.
Richard Eastmead, Harvey Norman Internet proprietor, said in his opinion the three major issues for online customers are convenience, value and a trusted brand name of both the retailer and the product.
`The perception of who is at the other end running the site is a big issue for online customers. If they know the name of the retailer and the product they are more likely to buy,' he said.