Stamp Dealers and the Internet.
When I go to stamp shows I walk around and talk with dealers about the Internet and whether or not they are online. I’ve discovered there are several classes of dealer. There are those with no web presence, those with a basic site (whether they post inventory with a printable form or not), and those with some type of E-commerce.
For those with no web presence I say shame on you. Some dealers I talk to point to a wall of boxes and/or albums and lament that they could never put together an inventory. They enjoy doing shows, small and large, and meeting the collectors. That’s fine and I understand. You still need a basic site and a web presence. The site can tell people about you – what you’re buying or selling, and about you in general. If you enjoy meeting people think about posting the shows you will be attending and inviting them to your booth. You may not realize it but people do search on the Internet for dealers. Be proud of the Associations you are a member of and display the information on the site. It helps both you and the industry.
Now let’s assume you have a basic site. Is the information current? Does it say what you want it to say about you and your company? Do you display your inventory in some – downloadable spreadsheets or other document? Do you make it easy for people to contact you to buy or sell? Do you promote it? These are all important questions that you have to ask yourself. Let’s talk about the basics.
The information you display on the site is important for two reasons. First, the site is a window into who you are and what you do. Second, the content on your site is visible to the search engines and may help, or hurt, your ranking. Also, you have to think of this as your extended office. If customers think there is a fit they can contact you and now you have a new customer. Without the site this would just be another missed opportunity.
Do you make inventory available in some manner other than E-commerce? Can collectors download inventory or special offers? How do they order, by calling, or by printing or emailing a form? If any of these apply, give yourself some points. The Internet is about instant gratification – see it, buy it. Collectors love to browse the web looking for that special item, but when they find it they want to buy it. It is important to make the buying process as smooth and easy as is possible. If you use online forms to get information you must have a secure site. The smart collectors look for that little padlock in the browser showing the site is safe. If collectors don’t see this they may just move on and you will never know. It is important to remember that for every person who runs into an issue and takes the time to contact you, twenty more have simply clicked on to another site. The Internet makes it extremely easy to find another dealer to service their needs.
Now let us talk about true E-commerce. Sites using E-commerce are database driven and show some, or all, of a dealer’s inventory. Collectors can click a button, add the item to a shopping cart, and then proceed to checkout. In checkout they can complete the order process and voila, instant gratification!
There are a variety of E-commerce platforms. Some are package solutions where everything is preloaded and configured on a managed server at your location. One such solution is provided by Michael Eastick (www.michaeleastick.com). Another type is a hosted solution like the one BigCommerce (www.bigcommerce.com) offers. You can build your own store complete with shopping cart. This platform is template driven and does require you to do some designing. One thing to note about some of these platforms is that you are a sub-domain of their url. For example, the link to your E-commerce platform would be mystamps.theirsite.com. Some browsers warn about being redirected to another site and attentive web surfers can tell by the url that this is a different site. Lastly, there are hosted solutions where your site is hosted on dedicated or shared servers and the site is designed and managed for you. An example is 24 Hour Merchant (www.24hourmerchant.com). This is our hosted solution.
Prices vary based on hardware costs, setup and site design fees, and regular monthly charges. Be careful of add-ons. A basic site might be relatively inexpensive, but by the time they add features, your fees could be way out of line with the average. Be sure to shop around, ask, and compare what is best for you, managed or unmanaged. Also, does the person or company have experience with philatelic sites? If you need support, is it available? No matter what platform you choose, make sure you can set up a secure server certificate (remember that little padlock in the browser).
Once your site is built you have to promote it. There are a variety of ways to do this. You can use social media such as Facebook and Twitter, you can exchange links with other sites, and you can place your web address in all your advertising. How to promote your site is a whole new article which I’ll go into in the next issue.
Bruce Drumm is the owner of Servers, inc, a web design and hosting company.