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Are You In The Junk Business?

By Bob McElwain
Posted Saturday, March 22, 2003

Most people in the real world have a dim view of mail order businesses. Most mistrust them.

We are at best looking at a catalog. We can not feel, lift, or smell the item we are considering. It's even tougher when looking at a classified ad in the back of a magazine that gives only a postal box number.

There's Mail Order And There's Junk Mail Order.[b/]

Over many years, Sears built an awesome reputation by delivering good (if not always great) products at modest prices. And by supporting their customers with an unbeatable guarantee.

Must of rural America grew up wearing clothes purchased from Sears. Or from other companies with equally fine reputations. And so did a lot of city dwellers, including myself.

But the really profitable side of the mail order business was what most call junk. Send your ten bucks and become rich. Or become the next heavy-weight boxing champion. Or have those of the opposite sex tearing the clothes off one another trying to get near you.

Or for ten bucks more as the down payment, buy a lot in the magical land of California. (Honest, this is how Los Angeles was created, and how it grew.)

But Hey, We're Smarter Now

We no longer fall for such silly promises. We'll do business with L.L. Bean, for like Sears before them, they've demonstrated their customers come first. But that junk stuff? We run at the first sign of it. Right?

Sorry. It's not so. Junk mail order remains a multi-million dollar business. Check the classifieds at the end of many magazines on the newsstands.

Check the advertising rates. Folks paying these outrageous prices for ads are not charities. They make big bucks. Or the ads would not be running.

What Does This Have To Do With My Web Business?

What is described above is mirrored on the Web. And what was said is true of the Web. We'd all be more successful if we looked at our business on the Web as a mail order business.

The skepticism of our visitors is at least as strong as that of one looking at a catalog or classified ad. The hard truth is many on the Web are in the junk business. Or selling lots on the moon for a dollar down. Your visitors would be unwise to overlook this fact, even for an instant.

This Can't Be So

I fouled up a book order recently at http//ActionTales.com. The customer expressed "displeasure." My partner, Mary, quickly reordered the book, shipping it UPS next day. (And we lost bucks.)

We received a delightful response from our customer. The telling line is the last one in her message. "This is so unusual when dealing with those in the mail order business."

Okay, you can say it isn't so if you like. You can even say I'm dead wrong to suggest it is. But can you refute the perception of your potential customers?

The better plan is to assume your visitors hold such views.

So What If I Do?

Accept that fact you are not L.L. Bean. They are no longer considered a mail order business. Rather they are perceived as a business that uses catalogs and their website to help you find what you want. Then they deliver your purchase right to your front door. All with great support and an iron-clad guarantee.

You haven't got the time or the resources to build this sort of image. Thus first time visitors are likely to rate you initially as being in the junk business.

Thus you must quickly distance yourself in all possible ways from such businesses. Make no promises that can not be kept. Make no claim that can not be justified. And so forth.

[b]The Path

Follow the lead of companies like L.L. Bean. Make customer support your number one priority. Then make certain your advertising does not overstate. In fact go the other way. Make certain your products over-deliver.

Demonstrate your expertise and credibility. Don't just talk about it. Make it happen.

This is the path to growing a successful online business. Or a successful mail order business. There is no other.