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Your customers in a Web world

November 1, 2005 By    

A business that is out of touch with today’s Internet-saturated world is a business in danger of losing customers to a more Web-savvy competitor.

 Sara Bouska
Sara Bouska

Consumers are increasingly using the Internet as a source not only for shopping, but also for paying bills and for locating and researching the products and services they need.

According to a study published by Dove Consulting in 2003, 83 percent of consumers use ecommerce, or shop and purchase online. Another 41 percent have used online bill payment.

That’s 83 percent of consumers that are Internet-savvy and might pass your company by if it’s not.

Let’s say a newcomer to your area is in need of a propane provider. They use the Internet to do their research. Does your company exist on the Internet? That’s the first hurdle.

Once you’ve achieved a presence on the Internet in the form of a company Web site, evaluate how locatable you are. If the consumer were to perform a search from a search engine like Google by typing in key words, such as “propane service Harper, KS,” to locate potential providers, is your company listed in the results?

Living up to the expectations of today’s consumers requires more than just a website, however. Your website needs to work for them in some way. Online bill payment is one relatively simple way to do this.

Online payment is the fastest growing method of bill payment according to Dove’s study. Paper checks by mail and cash are quietly disappearing as a primary form of bill payment. Payment by checks of recurring bill payments from 2001-03 dropped from 72 percent to 60 percent.

Consumers have overcome the barrier of security concerns for Internet payments, with the most common method of payment on the Internet being credit cards, with debit cards quickly closing the gap. Of the 41 percent of consumers who had used online payment at the time of the study, 56 percent paid bills directly to the receivable company’s website, rather than routing payments through their bank’s website.

If you provide the site, they will log on and pay their bills. In increasing numbers, it’s becoming the preferred method. It gives your customers control, the ability to make payments on their schedule.

And it doesn’t have to be a technological revolution for you. Just find a company who will build, host and maintain your website, as well as provide you with a secure area to accept payments.

Companies that will provide the consumer with the ability to access and transact with them online will continue to grow their advantage over those that refuse the change the Internet brings. To start, simply create an online presence, then begin to offer services that your customer values on the Internet, where it’s convenient for them to do business with your company any time.

Sara Bouska is a marketing consultant for Propane Resources.

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