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Innovations in E-Commerce: Converter Benefits

One of the advantages of doing business in a post-dot-com-crash world is that the marketplace has eliminated hordes of high-tech posers whose greatest expertise was trafficking in snake oil. Indeed, the thriving dot-com survivors that remain generally have proven their ability to deliver in challenging economic times — and in the process, converters are reaping the rewards.

Orange County Container (orangecountycontainer.com), makers of industrial and point-of-purchase packaging, for example, has found that by turning to Harry Rhode Management Systems (hrms.com) for its e-commerce web interface, it's been able to spike its overall customer satisfaction barometer significantly.

“We receive a great reaction from customers when we show them what they can do,” says Dan Domino, OCC's general manager. Specifically, Domino says customers logging onto the full-service system easily can check open orders, review warehouse inventory, monitor scheduled shipments, examine shipment history, view item listings, request quotations, place orders, and access the site message center.

Key to the interface's success is its ability to offer up-to-the-minute data for customers, according to Carole Kenward, an administrative manager at OCC. “Customers ask us if the e-business information they see on the Web is real time. They want to trust the quantities. And we don't want to give them information they can't rely on. HRMS's Unitized Inventory is the solution for the real-time, accurate counts they require.”

So far, OCC has found some interface facets more popular than others. “We see a lot of our customers sending quote requests, checking inventories and open orders, monitoring shipments, and viewing shipment histories,” Kenward says. “The histories are a wonderful tool. They go back six months, and many of our clients use them for their own projections. They can check their warehouse inventory, and if they see a low quantity, they can click on the item immediately and check open orders that will replenish their inventory.

“That kind of power is very attractive to our customers — through e-business, we actually help them plan better by supplying the information they need about their transactions with us.”

Kenward cites fastidious preparation as one of the primary reasons OCC's Web interface has been embraced so positively by its customers. “We took the time to clean up the system — the backlogs, warehouse inventories, and so forth — to show only current items,” she says. “With e-business, you present yourself to your customers, so you must make sure everything is as it should be.”

Meanwhile, xpedx (xpedx.com), a distributor of printing paper, packaging, and graphic imaging supplies and equipment, says its e-commerce interface from webPKG (webpkg.com) has reaped similar benefits. “WebPKG's service helps xpedx to be more competitive by integrating the entire package manufacturing process,” says David Wallace, xpedx's director of e-business. “Additionally, because our customers also have access to webPKG's service, we're able to offer them greater control over their internal product designs and specifications.”

With the Web interface, xpedx customers simultaneously can create, access, share, and reference design specification documents and collaborate in real time. Wallace says the service also serves as a virtual meeting hub for xpedx customers, suppliers, converters, and technical people to configure, redesign, and review new results and drawings. Such “cyber-synergy” enables all trading partners to make faster and more efficient product engineering and packaging decisions, according to Wallace.

“With webPKG's service, we provide more accurate engineering analysis and quotes and more efficient answers — ultimately improving how xpedx delivers packaging solutions to our customers,” Wallace says.

Essentially, by reaching consensus among multiple project management and manufacturing groups rapidly, webPKG enables xpedx and its customers to reduce the typical development lead time by as much as two-thirds, significantly increasing their competitive advantage in the marketplace, Wallace says.

“Our packaging and eService is the first in the industry to deliver the type of control and packaging process efficiencies that traditionally have been costly and ineffective,” adds Robert DeNola, webPKG's CEO.

For Zumbiel Packaging (zumbiel.com), an independent company established in 1843, customization played a key role in its selection of new web components available in The System, made by CRC Information Systems (crcinfosys.com). “CRC's willingness to customize The System to fit our needs, and the power of their functionality and integration, sets CRC apart from the others,” says Vicky Schneider, Zumbiel's VP of information technology.

A long-time CRC customer, Zumbiel plans to implement CRC's full suite of Web-enabled applications, according to Schneider. Key features of the suite follow:

  • e-Commerce Printing Quotation entry

    offers customers a user-friendly interface for submitting job specifications, according to CRC. The system interfaces directly with CRC's overall The System package, which enables users to enter only a few pieces of data — such as page count, finish-size, and quantities — to retrieve a quote.

  • e-Finished Goods Job Entry

    allows customers to request production of finished goods from a Web interface. Users of this module can enter up to 999 line items per job.

  • e-Finished Goods Order Entry

    enables customers to request the release of finished goods from a Web interface. This module “red flags” items that have dropped below a designated stocking level for the customer, ensuring immediate recognition by customers, according to CRC.

  • e-Finished Goods Inventory Tracking

    offers customers critical, real-time data on their inventory items. Specific data available for view includes quantity on order, quantity on hand, quantity reserved, quantity available, year-to-date usage, and selling price.

  • e-Job Tracking

    offers customers a window on the status of production orders. With this module, users can drill down to view line time details for each job and access sales rep and CSR e-mail addresses simply by clicking on a name.

Web Site Promotion: New Tools and Strategies


Once converters have a web interface in place, they find scores of Web marketing firms have been tireless in developing innovative ways to reach out and wow someone. Here are some of the more impressive new twists in on-line promotion they've come up with lately:

Send a Chat Room in with Your E-Mail: Just when you thought it was safe again to be unimpressed by the Web, a group of software wizards have found a way for you to send a live chat room with every e-mail you send. That's right: The same kind of chat room you and/or your kids use to fritter away time on America On-line and similar services now can be packed up in an e-mail and sent once — or 100,000 times, if you prefer — to existing and prospective customers.

Customers who receive the e-mail simply click on a button, and your company's customer service chat room — complete with your logo or other design — instantly flashes on their PC screen.

The marketing technique is promulgated by companies like LivePerson (liveperson.com), which specialize in creating and maintaining customer service/marketing chat rooms. As long as you have the support staff to handle the barrage of customer inquiries you should receive once you release these chat rooms, companies such as LivePerson can provide you with the software and expertise you need to pull off such a campaign. In fact, at least one provider of e-mail marketing software — MailWorkz (mailworkz.com) — comes with the LivePerson chat room option built in.

Leverage Contests for a Quick Traffic Spike: A funny thing happened at the turn of the millennium — traffic to web sites featuring contests and sweepstakes surpassed even web sites offering breaking news. And on-line marketers have never looked back.

“Whatever your point of view, the numbers are large,” says Larry Chase, author of Essential Business Tactics for the Net, Second Edition and publisher of Web Digest for Marketers (wdfm.com). “CBS bet $70 million in ad promotion to launch iWon.com, a consumer search, content, and services portal where every click adds points and entries to sweepstakes. As a result, iWon.com, a latecomer to the search engine market, consistently ranks in the top 20 sites visited monthly.”

Even if you don't have the wherewithal — or the desire — to develop and implement an on-line contest or sweepstakes, that's not a problem. Hordes of companies with similar preferences are outsourcing on-line contest creation and maintenance to companies like ePrize (eprize.net). Essentially, ePrize offers turnkey sweepstakes products that companies simply can plug-in and use on their own web sites.

Other sweepstakes/contest service providers, like Webstakes.com, cater more to firms that don't have the ability to handle the huge influx in site traffic that contests and sweepstakes often generate. Essentially, these services will host a company contest or sweepstakes on their own sites and are known as sweepstakes portals.

Send Virtually Goof-Proof, Multimedia E-Mail: Used to be, sending an HTML e-mail — essentially an e-mail with all the color, graphics, movement, and other special effects of a Web page — was a dice game. People either would open your “rich media” e-mail and go ga-ga over all your gorgeous imagery and design work, or they'd be confronted with a PC screen filled with gobbledy-gook symbols.

No more. Thanks to some recent advances in software programming, there are dozens of e-mail packages and services available now that will sense automatically whether or not your recipient's e-mail reader can handle an HTML email, and then render your promotional message accordingly.

“It's fairly simple,” says Karen Fegarty, founder of MailWorkz, a software maker that specializes in HTML e-mail delivery software. “If their software can read HTML, it will show them the HTML message. Otherwise, it will default to a text message, and they'll never know the difference.”

Not surprisingly, there are a number of packages and on-line services chomping at the bit for your HTML e-mail business. For a look at additional on-line services, check out Cooler Email (cooleremail.com); EarthOnline (earthonline.com); MessageReach (messagereach.com); Mindshare Design (mindsharedesign.com); and @Once (once.com).

For in-house software packages, you can test-drive “Broadcast HTML” by Mailworkz (mailworkz.com); “Campaign” by Arial Software (arialsoftware.com); “WorldMerge” by Colorado Software (worldmerge.com); “Mailloop” by Mailloop (mailloop.com); and “PostCast” by Gate Comm (gatecomm.com).

One caveat: Despite the fact top-shelf HTML e-mail programs now default automatically to sending a text e-mail message to e-mail readers when necessary, the programs still cannot guarantee perfect results.

The reason for this is most HTML e-mail programs are written to work with the last version or two of popular e-mail readers sich as Outlook Express and Netscape. Therefore, you may run into a situation where an older version of Outlook Express will accept your HTML e-mail, but it will not render it exactly as you'd hoped.

Rent an E-Mail List that Delivers: While few things are more discouraging in web promotion than seeing an e-mail list of supposedly pre-qualified, potential customers crash and burn with zero response, the fact is there are plenty of legitimate e-mail lists out there. You just need to know how — and where — to find them.

Two people who've made a career of dodging the ne'er-do-wells that traffic in bogus e-mail lists are Kim MacPherson, president of Inbox Interactive (inboxinteractive.com), an e-mail marketing firm, and Shannon Kinnard, author of Marketing with E-mail, published by Maximum Press (maxpress.com).

One proven strategy they say will help prevent you from being snookered is to rent opt-in lists only — lists that feature subscribers that have made a deliberate effort to receive the mailing list or newsletter. Moreover, lists tend to be more reliable if there is a “double-confirm” option, which asks new subscribers to confirm their requested subscription with a follow-up e-mail.

In addition, reputable list owners and brokers generally (and freely) provide you with contacts of firms that have used their lists a number of times with great success, MacPherson says.

You should also nail down the list's “open” and “click-thru” rate if at all possible. Essentially, new advances in list management software enable list brokers and owners to track what happens to a message once it's sent over the Net. Some programs, for example, can tell a list owner how many people actually “open” and view an e-mail once it is sent to their e-mail address. And many of these same programs can track how many people “clicked” on a hot-link embedded in that message.

As you may suspect, this kind of message response intelligence can translate into pure gold for you. Essentially, if a list broker can verify that 90% of the subscribers on a list are opening the e-mail that is sent to them, that 60% of those subscribers are clicking on hotlinks embedded in those messages, and that 50% of that user subset actually is making a purchase as a result of that click — well, what you have there is a license to print money.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Thousand Oaks, CA. He can be reached at 805/379-3673; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; joedysart.com


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