Fifteen years ago not many had heard of the Internet. Today, most of us are aware of the Internet and know that it is the fastest and most cost-effective medium of communication. Having been involved with the Internet since 1995, I have watched it grow from a very simple & quick way of sending email to a sophisticated medium of communication.
The growth of the Internet introduced the World Wide Web - the web of websites displaying information that is accessible at mouse clicks. The Internet, today, is one of the first places a person who has access to a computer will go, to get information. It is often said that the Internet is information. Whether it's information on health tips, art & culture, or a specific product or service, the world wide web is the place everyone looks to for information.
Businesses worldwide have taken on this economical, yet effective, means of advertising and mass communication, and are using it extensively for providing information about their products & services. The days are not far when every business will appear on the Internet in some form or the other. The web is becoming the preferred choice to shop and research products and services, and businesses that are not on the web, no matter how big or small, will soon become yesterday's news.
Several tools and technologies have evolved that enable a business to display information and provide online interaction facilities through easily created websites that have dynamic and interactive contents and complex functionalities. There has been an amazing growth in web functionality/technology, though the cost of implementing these functionalities have reduced considerably with time. In the late 90's it was not unusual for a company to spend a few hundred thousands of rupees to build an eCommerce website. Today, any business, small or large, can have an Internet catalog or eCommerce website for as low as 75,000 rupees. This has been possible due to volume of scale and reduction in cost of technology with more and more businesses now opting for online presence, and an increase in the number of service providers.
One of the questions I am often asked is - What are the benefits of having a business website?
Through this article I have tried to answer this question. Though, in this article I have talked mainly about businesses, what is written here applies equally to other organizations viz. non-profit organizations, societies, government organizations, etc., who can read and perceive this article in their own context.
If you are not on the web your customers look at your business as behind and not moving with the times. If you own a business today your customers expect you to have a web presence and an email address. This expectation almost requires you to have some sort of dynamic and interactive website.
We all know that the root place for the boom in Internet and telecommunication has been the United States of America. During the 80's and 90's companies in the USA were in a cost cutting and productivity increasing frenzy. American companies were working diligently to drive customers totally mad - not leaving out any technology option available to them then.
While these companies bragged about their excellent customer service, the customer perception was not in line and the latter felt that this has actually resulted in poor customer service.
Then, when most companies had given up on any hope of getting good customer service, the Internet sprang up. What an amazing thing to happen - any time, night or day, you could look up information you needed. One of the early players who took on this amazing new technology was Amazon.com, who began selling books online through their website. And the service was great. An email telling you that they have received your order, an email telling you that the order was shipped and you should receive it in a few days, an email telling you that you should have already received the order and what to do if you had not, an email telling you of a great new book similar to the one you just bought, and so on. And all this was completely automated, not requiring any human intervention.
Sure it was an automated email and not a physical letter. But it was so much better than what customers were used to, they liked it.
Even today everyone, who uses email, likes this mode of communication. Why spend the cost of making a telephone call just to listen to a voice mail and wait on hold till you are transferred to a human operator. Before the actual communication begins, your telephone bill has already shot up. Compare this against email - you can send an email at any time and you can go do other things while waiting for a reply.
So the Internet did make it possible to communicate with customers at their convenience of time and place. It has made it possible to automate information dissemination and customer service. Irrespective of where your customers are located, whether in your own city or in another continent, a website enables you to provide information to them in a more relaxed environment.
A website allows for constant advertising 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and all days of the year. It works and advertises for you while you are busy elsewhere. It can answer most of the customer queries without having them to call your staff and take away your valuable time. Your customers can contact you and you can contact them at each others convenience.
In addition to using the Internet to increase your market reach and revenue the Internet has also made it possible to keep your existing customers happy and not drive them away to your competitors.
Customer convenience: Imagine the ultimate level of convenience your website will give to your customers - They can visit your website at anytime - They can collect information and buy online at the time and place of their choice. It is this convenience factor which is the driving force behind the Internet explosion in electronic commerce. Customers today are exposed to a global market, giving them better choice and better prices.
Customer requirement Having an Internet website is now a customer requirement. Today, having a website for your business is not only beneficial, it's essential. Customers expect you to have a website if you want them to take you seriously. They use the Internet regularly and expect to be able to find information about you online. They are looking for things such as technical information about your product, product features, price, find answers to frequently asked questions, find phone numbers and interact with your staff quickly and easily or post a query, complaint or service request online. A website can even help customers easily locate your address and directions to your office.
A Website and email address are as important as having voice mail, fax, an answering machine, a telephone directory AD, or a weekly listing in the local newspaper.
Customer perception of your business: Many customers gauge the credibility of a firm by the professionalism of their website. You could be operating out of your garage and be perceived as a market leader in your industry just by having an impressive website. Making a good impression is important as it increases your customer's confidence in your products and services. For this reason the Internet also levels the playing fields when it comes to competing with bigger businesses.
Improved support for your customers: With a web presence, a business can reach a larger, international market and keep its customers better informed at a lower cost. It can maintain closer contact and promote greater product loyalty. Your website is always on and available to anyone looking for information about you. Potential customers can find the information they need when they need it, without additional mailing costs, without requiring a personnel to answer a phone or voice mail messages to be returned. They can quickly and easily collect information about your products, place orders and track order fulfillment. It is this ease of doing business, which attract and retain customers. Consider the example of Amazon.com.
Additionally, a website gives you the ability to capture customer information through feedback, complaints and query receiving mechanisms, allowing you to make informed decisions in the future and correcting and improving your service
Capitalize on the most effective marketing method ever invented: Having your business presence in online marketplaces and business directories such as ebay, alibaba, etc. works better than any form of offline promotion. Now-a-days, advertising on social networking sites and search engines such as google yield more returns that even advertising on TV and newspapers. These are genuinely customer-focused marketing methods that put you in front of people exactly when they are looking for you.
Right now, while you are reading this article, somewhere on the web, someone is looking for the services and products you offer. A listing of your business pages in an online directory service or a search-engine-optimized website can bring them to you.
In the past, when your customers were looking for a product or service, their easiest option would be to pull out the Yellow Pages to search for a store or company in their area that provided the product or service they were in need of. Sometimes this supplied a name and phone number, sometimes an address, on more rare occasions, a picture advertisement with a list of services or products. With the Internet today, that same customer can go to an online directory service and be presented with a list of businesses that fit their needs, with links to their web pages. Those web pages are loaded with product pictures and price lists, maps and phone numbers, and even online shopping cart system which allows the customer to order products and services - all without ever having to leave the house or office.
Perhaps you have a service oriented practice such as accounting, law, or medicine that's already doing well and you're wondering why you should burden yourself with the added expense of a website. Simply put, not having a website will soon be like not having a listing in your local yellow pages. In the web world, this is referred to as a corporate presence. Even if your best business comes by word-of-mouth, your potential customers may want to check you out. A well-designed, professional website can give you added visibility and credibility. Especially if you provide a public service and your goal is to get across information to a large number of people almost instantaneously.
Compared to the more traditional advertising mediums, the Internet has potential circulation figures/coverage area that can't be matched - and all at a fraction of the cost of a simple series of advertisements in local or national newspapers - let alone a sustained TV or radio campaign. And your competitors are already there, so if you are not there, you are already one step behind in competition. Your competitors are online, aggressively promoting their products and services. They are putting their web address in print, television, radio and newspaper advertising as well as on business cards, letterhead, printed brochures and handouts. What are you waiting for?
You'll be very lucky if your competitors have not already got a website. And if they have, then it is taking business away from you. If you are marketing a product or service and you are NOT advertising where your competition is, you'll find yourself left behind very suddenly. Why not try a search at Yahoo Search, MSN Search or Google to see what your competition is up to?
The Internet has gone though a period of extraordinary growth, and it is estimated that more than 500 million people use the Internet and that at least 50 million companies have a presence on the Internet. Most of these are, of course in the USA and Europe presently. The use of the Internet is also showing phenomenal growth in East Asian countries such as India, Japan and China. Likewise, interest in South Africa has grown quickly and there are at least 2 million Internet users in South Africa.
The number of Internet users is increasing by nearly 50,000 daily. With the Internet, there are no geographical boundaries, so you reach a larger audience. If you are thinking of expanding regionally, nationally or even internationally, a website can be a very effective means of reaching new and existing customers easily.
In conclusion, by having a website, you are opening newer avenues of making customers and increasing your chances of making it big in your business. The above are just some of the merits of having a website for your business. The possibilities are endless!
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Rajeev Kumar is the primary author of How2Lab. He is a B.Tech. from IIT Kanpur with several years of experience in IT education and Software development. He has taught a wide spectrum of people including fresh young talents, students of premier engineering colleges & management institutes, and IT professionals.
Rajeev has founded Computer Solutions & Web Services Worldwide. He has hands-on experience of building variety of websites and business applications, that include - SaaS based erp & e-commerce systems, and cloud deployed operations management software for health-care, manufacturing and other industries.