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Creating An Effective Online Store

Piecing together the online catalog puzzle

In creating an online catalog, there are two primary objectives: getting visitors there and then driving what happens once they arrive. In most cases, getting them there falls under the umbrella of search engine optimization (SEO), which is an endless topic in itself. SEO principles for your static site in great part apply to your catalog. This is particularly true with the advent of universal search and the indexing of catalog pages. No doubt you have noticed Google now serves up catalog pages, or priced product pages, in its search results.

Your Web site and catalog should work in concert. I have noticed a handful of companies in industrial distribution that have chosen an e-catalog as their only online presence. In fact, third-party online catalog applications are available in a “plug-and-play” form. At Cisco-Eagle, we have chosen to integrate our catalog into our Web site for a number of reasons. If you have an existing Web site that has garnered a solid search position over the years, then that is an asset to leverage. If you have programming capabilities in-house, there are excellent catalog applications available that provide you the code and allow you to tailor the catalog specifically to your needs. We have observed that many catalogs fall short in usability. In effect, they are not in the least intuitive, which frustrates all of us who shop online. As we develop a site’s architecture and Web pages, one of our Web team members always reminds us to “Assume your client knows little or nothing about the products in which they think they have an interest.” Can your neighbor or spouse understand the product after visiting your catalog? Can they quickly find the product? Design with that person in mind.

An existing Web site that has garnered a solid search position over the years is an asset to leverage.

A visitor lands in your online catalog for a reason. They may be there to search and buy. They may be there to research and comparison shop (product characteristics, product performance, lead times and prices). They may simply want to learn more about a product. When your outside sales associates visit with a prospect, they ask questions. The responses to these questions determine how they respond to the prospect (hot prospect, lukewarm, no real interest, etc.). We don’t initially have this information about Web visitors. We do, however, know that quality content will serve us well. You have heard the term “content is king.” This is true no matter who shows up. Default to what works and design your catalog accordingly.

The Web is about providing information. How do you do this in a catalog format? This is one reason we determined to essentially build our own. In a catalog, the content has to be provided in an intuitive and useful manner. There is a lot of real estate on a Web page that can be populated without being cluttered. For instance, we have found tabs to be a convenient tool to provide a significant amount of product-specific information. Tabs can represent specifications, accessories, images, documentation or product inquiry forms.

An online catalog is, in essence, a bundle of “offers” or “calls to action” to the visitor. You want to be resource-rich and at the same time drive the visitor to take action through logical buying steps. Consider how efficient a Web order process can be if ideally executed. The visitor logically works through a self-serve environment (a great e-catalog), then interacts with your sales team only as necessary. The clearest call to action is the price. It represents an offer to all visitors. Here are a few additional examples of “calls to action” which can be appropriate for an online catalog:

  • Related Products Tab — Says “Now that you have purchased pallet rack, wire decking is an excellent addition. Add to cart.”
  • Most Frequently Purchased Products Area — Says “Here is what others in your industry are buying and why you should consider.” (Same with case studies and testimonials).
  • Freight Estimators — Say “Give me your destination zip code, and I’ll return an accurate freight rate. Now you have everything to complete the purchase.”
  • Form Inquiry Forms — Say “Give me this information and I’ll return a quote in 24 hours.”
  • Text Chat — Says “Ask me. I’m ready to provide an answer.”
  • Video — Says “watch me.”

As online marketers, our goals are to continue to provide a growing stream of relevant product offerings and product resources, create the tools to allow visitors to provide input and receive context-sensitive results on the spot, provide these visitors multiple channels (we all have communication preferences) to solicit and receive feedback, and do our best to keep abreast of Web technology. Your online presence is quickly becoming not only the face of your company, but in part, a key component of the “value add” you offer your customers.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Chris Doyle Meet the Author
Chris Doyle is director of marketing at Cisco-Eagle, located in Dallas, Texas, and on the Web at www.cisco-eagle.com.

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