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Sep 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Don Kreski

Is adding a shopping cart right for you?

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"I have a credit card in my hand. Why can't I buy it right now?"

According to Ed Elliott, president of equipment case manufacturer Jelco, that simple question prompted his company to revamp its website and add a more prominent shopping cart this year.

"Our dealers continue to be our main sales channel," Marketing Manager Cheryl Elliott says. "But there are customers who want to buy direct from the manufacturer. So we decided to make it easier for them to buy from us."

Jelco is one of a growing list of pro AV companies that have added ecommerce sections to their websites. With many good, off-the-shelf shopping carts available—including a cart from Google that's available for no charge—adding ecommerce keeps getting easier. Yet the question of whether it's right for your company goes a little deeper than whether it's possible.

I recently spoke to six executive managers of AV, security, and web-development firms about their experiences. They had some surprising advice for those considering the addition of direct-sales capabilities to their websites.

Fast and Smart

Kelly Lamison is vice president of Internet marketing and development for Tampa, Fla.-based AVI-SPL. She is in charge of the development of AVI-SPL's well-known Projector People website. Jennifer Blomberg is Projector People's senior vice president of sales. The two credit the success of the site to a number of factors:

  • Having a highly informative website
  • Fast service and low prices. Projector People stocks most of what it sells and offers free shipping and a 30-day return policy.
  • A professional sales team. Though the shopping cart is important to Projector People, Blomberg says that customers push the buy button on only 30 percent of the orders that come through.

For that reason, the company employs 11 highly experienced sales people.

"My least-tenured sales person has been with us seven years and my most tenured, 15," Blomberg says. She asks sales people to call every customer, even those who have submitted a completed order, before the purchase goes through. "We try to make sure our customers know what they're getting, and we want to establish a relationship that can lead to repeat business and to referrals," she says.

Niche Strategy

John Hillsman, marketing manager of Elgin, Ill.-based Educational Resources, says his company takes a narrower approach, selling only to schools. "We have chosen not to go into other areas because we find that if we play in a smaller pond, we tend to be a larger fish," he says.

Specialization, Hillsman says, allows the company to tailor offerings of special interest to its K-12 clients. "For example, we've built entire websites geared to available federal funding. That's not something you're going to find at a CDW or a Staples."

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