Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What To Do When The Buyers Seem To Have Deserted The Ship

Anyone who has ever been in retail for any period of time knows the frustration of the Down Times. These are the times when it seems like no matter what you do you just can’t seem to make those sales. Most retail businesses, and online selling is retail selling, have Fast, Medium and Slow sales periods. Under normal circumstances each business knows what time of year is the worst for them and they adjust accordingly. Historically, the first 3 months of the year are usually the worst times for most retailers. This year however, the words Slow Sales should probably be No Sales for many online sellers.

I was reading this article in a magazine while waiting for a extremely slow car dealership to finish a simple lube and oil change the other day. In this article, the author quote some federal economist saying that February and March retail sales were going to be coming in 30 plus percent below average this year. The main reason is the economy. People don’t feel comfortable with the economy right now and they are simply not spending like they normally would. These experts predictions were that it would be well into April and possibly May before the average buyer seriously would start letting loose of their cash. For those of us who sell online, this is not good news. For some sellers, it is disastrous.

It may have been coincidence or the magazine may have planed it this way but the very next article I read in the magazine just happened to be written by a marketing psychologist. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Considering the list of credential in his bio and the big name companies he had done work for, I guess he is considered an expert. It seems he goes into these big companies and tells them what to do when sales aren’t going well. My 14 year old grandson could tell them that and for a lot less money. Anyway, this “psychologist” was quoted in this article as saying that besides preparing for when the slow down ends, anyone who sells, should be using this time to focus in on their marketing. Getting you name out in front of as many sellers as possible now. The reasoning is that the more often they see your name, the better chance that when they are ready to buy again, your name will be the first one that comes to mind. Makes sense I guess if you think about it a little.

I learned this fact however when I was in high school. I had this job after school working for an uncle who was an insurance salesman. He drummed into my head his simple but profound philosophy of work. As he put it, “If your not doing business, your business is creating new business”. Uncle Chuck didn’t have a PhD either. I’m not even sure he finished high school now that I think about it.

What I’m driving at here is that although some sellers are doing good right now, a much larger number are not. Since the likely hood of sales picking up significantly real soon, it seems that a sellers time might be better spent in the area of marketing for the long term instead of trying to get the proverbial blood out of the turnip.

Being the first name that comes to a buyers mind when that buyer is ready to buy is a very good thing. The trick is how to accomplish that and do it without taking out a second mortgage. That’s the challenge. Since each product type requires slightly different marketing techniques and strategies because of the products uniqueness, it would require a book to cover everything that could be done. I would however like to focus on just one thing in common that every retailer could do during these slow times.

The two biggest assets any online seller can develop are having a large number of links pointing to their store and a large number of people who talk about their product in the real world. Developing a large number of links to your store can be accomplished by either paying someone to do it or doing it yourself. Under the present circumstances and conditions, many sellers have more time than money. As such, developing as many back links as possible will require the seller to just sit down at the computer and start searching out places they can swap links with. Submitting their store’s URL to as many search engines and directories as possible. I know that many of the so called SEO experts say to just try and get yourself listed in the biggest search engines and directories because no one really visits the smaller ones. I disagree.

Volume is the key here. Most large search engines like Google, are spider types of search engines. Their spider goes out and retrieves information from all over the internet. The more often it sees a specific URL link, the more credibility and weight that search engine gives it when they start compiling all the spider’s data. The simple fact is that the more links you have pointing to your site, the better chance you have of showing up higher in the larger search engines. Directories are a little different, but they too place more weight on any given URL if they have a large number of links pointing to them.

Another thing to remember is that spider type search engines pull information from many different sources. That includes blogs, forum posts and other social networking sites. In fact, at present, blogs and forum posts can be one of the quickest ways to develop these back links. However, links in other search engines and directories are stable links and these search spiders see them over and over again. Day after day, week after week.

I have a big problem with most search engines and directories that want you to pay to be listed in them. They hand you this line of bull that paid listings get better visibility. That may be factual but to me that make that particular search engine or directory manipulative. It is saying that those using that search engine are just plain stupid and don’t know what they want so the search engine is going to show them what they think they should see. Although search engines usually have a larger number of entries in their data bases, most of them are never seen by the average user or for our purposes potential buyer. Personally I like directories that follow the old fashion hierarchal method of listing those in the directory. Yes it takes a little longer to drill down in a directory to find what you are looking for but you get to see every listing without being manipulated. If the directory is really organized, listings are in alphabetical order so jumping a few pages isn’t difficult if you have a company name to work with. Another thing, most directories have site search engines that are capable of bringing up everything in that directory that is relevant to that search word or term.

More and more internet users have savvied up and now use specialized directories and search engines when doing any serious searching. Some of the first to realize this were those that developed the big Shopping search engines and directories. Unfortunately for the most part, the big ones have been bought out by the larger general search engines or their subsidiaries and have become just as manipulative as the search engines themselves. Money talks as they say.

What many shoppers are discovering these days is that the smaller specialized shopping directories provide the potential buyer with a better quality of product selections than the larger ones do. This is good for those of us who sell handmade and hand crafted items. What all this means is that we have a better chance of being seen by potential buyers if we are in these specialized shopping directories. There is nothing wrong with being in the larger ones, I just have to ask myself, “what am I gaining if no one sees me?”. Another advantage of the specialized smaller directories is that there is usually no cost involved in listing your store in them. Personally I like anything that is Free.

So, if you are finding your sales just aren’t there these days, you probably should be spending as much time as possible on the marketing end of your business. It certainly is time better spent than worrying about the lack of sales. Get your name out anywhere and everywhere you can. If you can do it at no expense the better. Save your real advertising money for when the sales have picked up. Don’t waste it when the sales just aren’t there to begin with.

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