Here are some suggestions for what to include in your website.
Grab the attention of those Web surfers and invite them into your store! What makes your site unique? Better? Show those shoppers why it's worth their time to look around, right away at the beginning of your page. Your specialty and inventory will be your competitive edge, but why? Announce your strongest benefits right away.
Build customer confidence.
Anonymity can be a fun. As you surf, you can browse all you want, and nobody has to ever know your name. This can be a disadvantage when selling, however. Introduce yourself to your customers. Create a "Who We Are and What We Can Do For You" page, and include a photo of yourself. If you're camera shy, how about a picture of your shop? You need to let people know that you are indeed a real, live, trustworthy business.
Use casual language.
When you create the text in your site, try and develop a personal, conversational style. Essentially your web page is an extension of yourself, so write like you talk. When your words are less formal, or even funny, customers relax. If you keep people at a distance, how can you expect them to hand you their money?
Limit the number and size of your graphics.
Surfers want to move from page to page quickly and easily. Waiting to download complicated pictures is frustrating. Fast-loading, well-done graphics will enhance your image, but don't substitute form for substance. If it takes too long to download your pictures, you may find your customers are long gone before they develop.
Use short paragraphs and short words.
Announce your strongest benefits with attention-grabbing headlines. Break up long sentences into easily digested sections, including lots of bullets. Allow the reader's eyes to flow down the page. Long words and blocks of text are ineffective if no one reads them.
Don't underestimate the power of captions. Studies show that if people read only one thing on a page, it will be the caption. Load them with your strongest benefits and a call to action, like "Click here to buy this gorgeous doorknob now!"
Make changes often.
Give your customers reason to stop in again and again. If they've already seen what you have, what’s their incentive to come back? Keep your inventory up-to-date. Remember, surfers want what’s new, exciting or different. You won’t need to constantly redesign your entire site, but frequent updates encourage curiosity and increase traffic.
Offer free information, as most web users are used to getting something for nothing. Offer a weekly special discount. Furnish interesting articles, restoration tips, resources or freebies. Your customers are paying to look through your site. Give them a reason to come back. When you provide helpful ideas over time, you build customer trust.
Your customers are looking for deals, deals they can't find anywhere else. Only you know your best price for your merchandise, but keep in mind you are competing with live auctions and antique stores worldwide. Give your customers the price incentives they need to shop in your store.
The one-to-one relationships which can develop through your website are invaluable. Answer all email quickly and accurately using a personal, conversational tone. Ask permission to e-mail customers when their favorite merchandise arrives. Let them view it before the rest of the world. Make sure your customers realize how important they are.
Dealers have the opportunity to "listen" to their customers like never before. Use an involvement device such as a guestbook, survey or challenge. Ask for feedback and reward it. Post responses and winners prominently. Don’t overload the screen with fill-in boxes. Ask for only a little information at a time, and make it fun. This is an easy way to bring customers back, as people like to read their own work.
Link to sites you and your customers enjoy. This is how the "Net" works - network! Link popularity is vital to getting found in the search engines.
Encourage visitors to remember you with a bookmark. If you develop a complete set of links for your specialty, you can develop a reputation as a referring page, or even better, an authority resource.
Accept credit cards.
Credit card purchases can significantly increase your business. Give your customers the option of buying today. Right now! Don’t make them search for the checkbook, pen, stamps and envelopes. Let those impulsive surfers buy now and worry about paying later. Make sure you provide secure on-line transmission for your customers. Let them know their credit card numbers will be safe in your hands.
Testimonials add truth and credibility to your sales message. Offering a quote from an expert or satisfied customer will add more to your credibility than anything you can say about yourself. The more specific the testimonial, the more power it has. Give the authors full name, title and create a link whenever possible. Make sure to get permission from the author, and no making them up! Earn your testimonials.
Offer a money-back guarantee.
Appeal to the security needs of your customers. After all, you are asking them to send money for something they haven’t seen to someone they’ve never met. Make it clear if they're not satisfied, they can get their money back with no problem.
Gain exposure with online auctions.
Placing a sampling of your inventory up for auction can create great exposure for your store. Auctions are fun. They offer you an opportunity to sell slower moving items and allow your customers to get great deals. Direct bidders back to your website from your "About Me" page.
Put the word out.
Spread the word about your site everywhere. List your site in every directory you can find. Go out and announce your store is open for business. Mention new inventory or offer price discounts. Submit articles about your specialty to Internet magazines, discussion lists and newsletters, always including links to your site.
Location. Location. Location.
Much like the real estate game, where you place your website is very important. Visibility is your key to success. Even the most creative sites are doomed if no one sees them.
I suggest you reserve your own domain to allow you the freedom to design your site any way you would like. When it comes time to start selling, create a storefront in The Internet Antique Shop, and link to your merchandise there. Their experience and promotional expertise will help you stand out in this highly competitive world of online selling.