While a "No soup for you!" attitude might get laughs on the old Seinfeld shows, the real world is a different place. Berating customers won’t bring you more. Long lines of customers are more frequently due to good customer service, and this can lead to more sales.

But do you know that online stores can help you improve and extend your customer service?

Online stores showcase your products in an easily searchable format. This helps your customers see what you have and look for items they might want to purchase. In-store shoppers are now using online stores and shopping apps while they shop in physical stores. Why? Because it frequently helps them locate items in the store, read a detailed description of the item, see the reviews, view product specifications and all the different options available. While they make their purchases in-store, the online store acted as a very attentive, yet not naggy clerk, answering questions and always having the right answers.

Many busy customers shop the online stores of local businesses and then pick their purchases up from the store rather than having them shipped. They enjoy the convenience of shopping when their schedule allows rather than being confined to store hours. Your retail store just became a 24 hour store with no additional overhead! If you are worried your customers will buy fewer items because they aren't being enticed by your wonderful showroom, remember you can accomplish the same thing. An online store can make effective use of photography and reminders ("Did you forget anything?") before people check out.

If you allow it, customers can rate your items after they purchase them and review them for other shoppers. According to a new survey conducted by Dimensional Research, an overwhelming 90 percent of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews. They can also share their purchases on social media, which garners you tons of free advertising among their friends and family.

Adding an online store

There are many "quick start" shopping options that offer an almost push-button solution to setting up an online store. I would caution you to be careful. In the beginning, these are very affordable. Shopify is only $29 a month and includes the setup, the credit card processing and the SSL certificate. But wait! What if you want to utilize gift cards or reports or track abandoned shopping carts? You are up to $79 a month, and if you need real time shipping quotes (and in the end, you probably will), it will cost you $249 a month. These services lure you in with small initial fees, and then, once you have spent all the time adding your items and learning the system, they have you over a barrel. Who wants to spend the time starting over? So you are forced to pay the high monthly fees ($2988 per year).

As a comparison, you can get a really nice website with a custom design, blogging capabilities and shopping cart software for a one time fee of about $2000, with all the features these carts have. Thereafter, you only pay the hosting fee (usually less than $30 a month) plus the credit card processing fees (also a small amount each month). So while the initial purchase is about the same, year after year it's a much better deal.


Stephanie Nugent is the President of CyberSpyder Marketing Service, a local web design and internet marketing firm. In 2000, she had a dream: to use her talents to help small and medium-sized businesses claim their place on the world wide web. She and her team work hard to do just that for over 200 local businesses.

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