WHAT WE LEARNED THIS WEEK: Don’t underestimate high quality photography

David Jones and Amazon both announced this week they would be spending more time and money on high quality photography for their respective online websites.

David Jones appears serious about its attempt to create an “omni-channel” environment, a process it announced several weeks ago, in a move that is set to cost millions. Its web store will now hold more than 90,000 items – 10 times more than it holds right now.

Too many businesses underestimate the impact high quality photography can have. When a shopper searches for a product online, they can’t see it or touch it – but the media that allows them to forget that disadvantage will always be appreciated.

This means high quality photos, videos, and other media will give customers more comfort when purchasing something they’ve never laid their hands on before. This is why making the investment in good photography will never go to waste – the customer will always appreciate it and it will tip them over the edge to buy.

If you haven’t invested in good photography, then you should. It’ll cost you, but will ultimately pay back in the long-term. It’s simply essential in an online environment.

Update your business model with direct importing

Kmart chief executive Guy Russo has given Australian retailers a warning – update your business models.

Speaking to the Australian Financial Review, Russo made the point that although companies are consistently discounting, they aren’t updating their models to make sure they turn a profit.

One recommendation Russo gave really speaks to how businesses aren’t taking advantage of the web. Direct importing, he says, can give businesses a big advantage.

Plenty of retailers are engaging in direct importing now, including Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi. Too many businesses rely on wholesalers to get their product and aren’t branching out in order to save costs.

It can work. Make sure the customer knows up front what they’re buying, and you can end up saving a substantial amount of money.

Move beyond wholesale. Start looking at how direct importing can help move you into a new retail business model.

Only take as much customer information as you need

The rise of online stores means small businesses are dealing with a lot more private information than ever before. Credit card numbers, addresses, phone numbers. It’s all on file, and that creates plenty of problems as well.

Last week, the Privacy Commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, said shoppers are becoming much more aware of businesses that are requesting data, and put a warning to SMEs – don’t overwhelm people with requests.

“People are now becoming reluctant to give organisations information and are… finding ways to give incorrect information,” Pilgrim said.

The message is clear. If you’re making your customers give away too much information, not all of it is going to be correct, and it’s going to cause some big legal headaches for you if a problem ever comes up.

Only use as much information as you need. Then, you won’t be unnecessarily caught up in controversy.

Watch out for resume tricks

Yahoo has been entangled in a controversy since last week over chief executive Scott Thompson, who mistakenly was listed on the company’s website as having a computer science degree – he doesn’t.

Thompson has apologised, but the entire situation has caused a major shareholder to call for his resignation.

This is a serious problem, and not just for Yahoo. Plenty of businesses get caught out by employees who overstate themselves on resumes and say they can do something they can’t.

While this may be a problem for someone in management, it’s crucial that in IT this doesn’t happen.

Speak with your IT manager about the people you’re hiring. It can sometimes be common for people to overstate their experience. Ensure the people handling your tech have the practical skills to maintain your business.

Adopt a risk place for Facebook

Most small businesses are operating on Facebook, it seems. But too many aren’t actually using it properly, according to a new report from social media group Online Circle.

The company released a report last week that broke down how different industries are represented on Facebook, both through the number of fans they have, and the number of “likes”, compared with the number of actual user engagements.

But there’s a warning contained in the report that not enough businesses heed – the need for a Facebook risk plan.

When you’re using social media, you need to be on top of your game. So much can go wrong – customers start controversial conversations on your page, or they attack it with rude and inappropriate comments. Fighting can begin. You need to be prepared.

The report suggests you need to break down every situation, including when a user mentions a competitor, or when they attack another user. Think up every conceivable situation and have a response.

If you don’t have a risk plan, then you aren’t using social media properly. Get on it straight away, or you may have a situation where an employee makes a response that gets you into even more trouble.

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