Here’s a difference between big business and small business online. And an opportunity.
- First. My opening premise…
I think that online buyers like the idea of connecting in some way with a real person when they buy online.
- Next, the big business thing…
The bigger an online business grows, the less interactive and personal it becomes. I guess it’s inevitable. A couple of years ago, many of the bigger e-commerce sites depended on autoresponders to handle the volume of interactivity their customers wanted.
It was a nice thing to have customers who wanted to interact. But autoresponders were not a very nice way to handle that need.
Fast forward to the present – and now there are lots of companies that offer e-commerce sites a ‘live chat’ function. It’s a big improvement on autoresponders. If I get stuck while ordering something, I can just click on the Live Help button and type in a question or two.
(As a quick aside, I’ve tried a lot of these live chat services and have found a statistically inconceivable number of customer service agents named Cindy. Sure, I’d like to think they’re all nice girls named Cindy. But my guess is that some of these people I’ve been talking with are actually called Frank and have hairy backs.)
Anyway, my point is that big business will continue to look for technological solutions to make the online sales experience as ‘human’ as possible.
- Now on to the small business thing…
Smaller e-commerce sites that are still in the day-to-day hands of their founders often carry the voice and feel of that individual. That genuine, personal voice is a powerful thing.
It’s not a technological solution — it’s a real person.
The feel and voice of a real person can have a remarkable effect on building loyalty and trust — and converting browsers into buyers.
Of course, words like ‘loyalty,’ ‘trust,’ ‘converting’ and ‘buyers’ make up about 70 percent of the total vocabulary of your average VP Marketing at a really big e-commerce site.
Hence, the opportunity…
- Now for the match, and the money
Let’s say I own a small e-commerce site called NicksCushions.com. I have a selection of hand-made cushions that I import from all over the world. A nice niche market. I make a reasonable living. And I make that living because I have a great relationship with my customers. They like what I find for them and they can ‘hear and feel me’ there on the site.
Meanwhile, across a few states, a company like Living.com is building a huge business. They’ll always generate a thousand times the income that I can aspire to.
But I have something that they don’t.
I have a voice.
So I’ll call up the good folks at Living.com and make the following proposal.
“Steven, hi. Here’s the deal. What I can do is add a friendly voice and face to an area on your site. Let’s add a feature called ‘Nick’s Loony about Living Rooms.’ I’ll write a weekly column — which you can also use as a newsletter. In each column I’ll talk about ways to add atmosphere and warmth to every living area in your home. You name it, I can talk about it.
Naturally, each column will have links to the appropriate purchase points within Living.com. But most of all, I will add a human touch and feel to a part of your site. I can even build an interactive Q&A area.”
“Thanks for the idea, Nick. I like it. But I think we’ll just create a ‘Nick’ of our own, internally.”
“Nice try Stevie, but it won’t work as well. First, I have a proven track record. My voice and writing can build a customer database. I’ve shown that. Second, I’ll have more credibility because I’m not a Living.com employee. I’m an outside ‘expert.’ I can do this better than you can.”
“OK,” replies Stephen. “So what do you want out of it?”
“Moi? All I want is a short signature line at the end of every piece that says, ‘Nick is founder and Chief Cushion Officer of NicksCushions.com.’ Oh, and $500 bucks a column. $750 if you run it as a newsletter as well.”
“That’s a lot of money for a few words.”
“No, it’s not. You’re getting valuable content and, more significantly, you’re building a group of customers who’ll come back every week to hear what I have to say on the subject of ambience – and where to buy it at Living.com.”
“And you’ll get a lot of click-throughs to your own site.”
“Yes I will.”
“Sounds worth a try. One last thing. Can we change your name to Cindy?”
If you have a small business online, a strong voice and a proven track record, look around for a large, ‘friendly competitor.’
Maybe you sell roses — and can speak with Garden.com.
Maybe you sell aromatherapy oils — and you can speak with drugstore.com.
And if anyone laughs at you for trying this, ignore them.
Because you have something that the big guys desperately want.
You have the voice of a real person — and the track record to prove that you can convert that voice into a following of loyal purchasers.
A big, smart site should see the benefits of giving you a larger canvas to work with. And then you can both make a bit more money.