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Your Homemade Website Isn't Cutting It Anymore
 

Americans spent $200 billion online in 2011. The opportunity for retailers is huge--but you're not going to grab it with a DIY website.

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A report this week from Forrester Research confirmed what just about everybody in business already knew: Americans are buying online and they are buying a lot.

The study reported that Americans spent more than $200 billion online in 2011 and projected that total would rise to $327 billion in 2016. The 2016 figure represents 9 percent of all retail sales (up from 7 percent in 2011).

Among the report’s interesting findings:

  • 53 percent of Americans made an online purchase in 2011.
  • 58 percent are expected to make an online purchase in 2016.
  • People believe they get the best deals when shopping online.
  • Tablet devices like the iPad have spurred online impulse buying.

If these stats don’t make you want to reevaluate your e-commerce efforts—and perhaps plan a redesign!—they should.

An attractive, well-organized website, with a back-end that functions seamlessly and a shopping cart that makes the purchasing process as easy and intuitive as possible will do wonders for your bottom line.

Ten years ago, building a quality e-commerce website was a highly expensive proposition. You had to hire an outside firm to do it. Today, businesses can use any number of open-source platforms to build a complex, yet relatively inexpensive e-commerce site.

But just because you can do it yourself, should you?

I say no. It’s too critical to your business not to get right. Granted, I work at a Web design firm, but hear me out.

These cookie-cutter websites that people are peddling for $1000 or less may be fine for some kid with a blog or a pizza parlor looking to put their menu and phone number online, but for most businesses, they just look cheesy.

Here's the thing about cheap, template-driven websites: They look like every other cheap website out there. And that cheapens your brand. It makes you look like you don't take your marketing and messaging seriously.

Custom designs are always going to cost more but the result is something you'll never get from a generic template: a site that's been designed to drive real business for you. That requires a team of people including an information architect, a designer, a front-end coder, a back-end developer, a quality assurance expert, and a project manager to coordinate all of the work.

But first, you must find the right design team. Look for one that understands your business and how to best promote your business online. When you are interviewing potential designers, make sure they can point to specific case studies of successful projects they have completed for other clients.

The design process should always start with a planning phase: That’s when your designer should demonstrate an understanding of your business, the competitive landscape, and the goals for the project.

This is followed by the design stage, where your team will map out the look and feel of the site and lay out the navigation and functionality requirements.

Finally, after all of the site specs are agreed upon, the front and back-end coding will begin. At this stage, the quality assurance process tests the site’s functionality across a variety of browsers.

It’s not a fast or cheap process. (And, by the way, it doesn’t end there: The next step involves driving traffic to it with sound marketing strategies.)

If want to be in business, then you need to be online. But if you’re doing a bad job of it online, you have no business being in business in the first place.

Last updated: Mar 1, 2012

JON GELBERG is the editorial director of PR News.
@Jon_Gelberg




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