Shopping Online 101

Rick London

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It seems like only yesterday Mom would take me to Sears to help me pick out my winter wardrobe for school. We walked in, a smiling salesperson would be very attentive and spend an hour with us while I tried on clothes. Those were the days. That was forty years or so ago.

Then I became and adult and mommy was no longer with me to choose my clothes, my digital camera, cell phone, or anything else.

It is all up to me.

So, what to do? Reading Consumer Reports magazine has become a bit outdated as it is not only the product these days but distribution channel, how it is delivered, the economics of gasoline and time, i. e. Driving to a store, standing in line, etc.

So as an e-tailer, I not only sell online, I buy online, and often from my own store.

Why? For a number of reasons. Obviously I know my manufacturers and drop-shippers well and only use the few recommended by Ebay (I figure by now Ebay has an inkling of what is going on on the Internet).

I live just “across the holler” (as we call it in the south) from Wal-Mart world headquarters. Though, I must admit, I do shop their stores, I do it for only perishable items mainly.

I have found with direct distributors, even if (occasionally) my prices are a few dollars higher on mp3's, computers, phones, etc. I can still save big. And not just at my store, but a lot of online outlets that have direct access to the best manufacturers. Generally, I can find what I want at my store but if I can't, I can find it from a competitor. I'm not one of those type guys that considers my competitor my “enemy”. In fact the opposite. Generally the better he/she is doing, my own business reflects it.

I can (humbly) say that due to following trends closely, I was correct back in 1997 when I opened my first store. It was tough going. I am a cartoonist (and full time business student as well).

There were many ups and downs, no blogging (we used bulletin boards back then), SEO was almost nonexistent, there was no Google, or Ebay, and anything Yahoo was to die for.

Lately, after listening to my customers, I decided to take shopping online a step further. I have no problems ordering computers or expensive electronics, jewelry, etc. online. Most stores, like mine, offer an unconditional 30-day guarantee. And if its not what I want, I'm out the shipping cost. If they are like my store, they don't gouge on shipping; and most items cost about $10 or so to ship. And more often than not, it is exactly as described. My worst rate of return merchandise store is only .05%. That's a lot less than most brick and mortar stores.

So time really IS money, and gasoline costs a lot of time, getting to the store, finding a parking place, standing in line, dealing with crowds, are all considerations to shopping online.

For those who are wary of spending more than, say $100 online, I decided to implement something a bit unique in online shopping. I manufacture my own gourmet coffee gift baskets for instance, Ruth London's Exquisite Coffees, named after my favorite relative of all time, my maternal grandmother. It also happens to be the first cartoon coffee gift basket, that is, it includes an oversize cartoon coffee mug and four ceramic cartoon coasters as well as five blends and flavors of farm-fresh hand picked whole beans. For those who have not tasted the difference in the fresh beans and grounded coffee that has been sitting at gourmet coffee chains for months, you should definitely do so. You'll never go back.

So with every $500 purchase, I give away a free gourmet coffee gift basket ($50 value). And the customer gets to pick out the cartoons they want on the item from my cartoon website; simply by emailing us and telling us which one they want.

In addition, we offer at no extra cost personalization, that is, we will engrave the customers name of his/her business and web address on the mug and coasters at no extra cost, making it a very unique and memorable corporate gift.

I mention all this not for “bragging rights” but to show what one can do by utilizing the “four p's of marketing” using the Internet. Remember them from business school? Product, Place, Price, and Promotion. If done correctly, the big dogs have nothing on you. You are adding so much extra value, there really is no reason NOT to shop from you.

Buying online is just smart business. Comparison shopping makes sense as well; but does not always tell the whole story. Price should be only one factor in buying online or in person. Today, the savvy buyer wants a company that stands behind its products, 24/7 customer service, and same or next day shipping with a 30 day unconditional guarantee. That is what we have implemented and the fulfillment one gets of making people happy with just these simple elements is wonderful.

So when buying or selling online, especially when selling, it is important, no pertinent, to put yourself in the buyer's shoes. Extra value makes up for the difference of not knowing you personally. And when the product arrives on time and it is what the customer wanted, they often yet you know.

It's a very good feeling.

Rick London is an e-entrepreneur, cartoonist, writer, inventor and full time business student at Western Governor's University. He loves the outdoors, nature, takes in stray dogs and cats, loves to read, movies, travel, and Internet marketing. He says he will one day write a book after he learns to read. A few of his many websites are (he is co-owner) and Londons Times Cartoons


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