By Tracy Tsang, Mark Durkin and John Garvin
Faculty of Business and Management, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland
Tracy H.M. Tsang BA (Hons), MA, is marketing executive with Northern Ireland based company Typerite Ltd upon which this paper is based and where she is responsible for e-marketing strategy. Mark Durkin lectures in Internet marketing in the University of Ulster’s School of Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Strategy based in Jordanstown, Northern Ireland (email: Mg.Durkin@ulster.ac.uk). John Garvin lectures in e-commerce and TQM (Total Quality Management) in the University of Ulster’s School of Business, Organisation and Management, also in Jordanstown, Northern Ireland (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). All three authors are participants in the UK (United Kingdom) government’s Teaching Company Directorate initiative conducted between the case study company and the University’s Faculty of Business and Management (see http://www.tcd.co.uk).
Best practice in e-marketing is an elusive concept. Through a government backed ‘Teaching Company’ partnership between University of Ulster and a successful export oriented small firm in Northern Ireland this concept is explored in context. A two year longitudinal research study is reported in this paper with one of the authors reporting from the perspective of participant-observer in the company over the duration of the study. The case study is based on ‘Typerite Limited’, a Northern Irish SME that has designed and implemented an e-marketing strategy including a full e-commerce enabled web-presence for its on-line subsidiary InkjetsNOW (www.InkjetsNOW.com). InkjetsNOW sells inkjet cartridges, paper and discs directly to the consumer. This paper outlines the challenges Typerite faced in developing the e-commerce web site, the integration of the on-line business with its existing ‘bricks and mortar’ (physical premises e.g. office building or retail shop) business and the strategic and operational marketing activities undertaken to make this initiative highly successful.
The Internet is seen to constitute a veritable revolution in the way that company-customer relationships can be developed and maintained. The interactivity offered by the Internet facilitates this co-production (Carrington et al 1997) and suggests that the web enables one-to-one marketing (Peppers and Rogers 1995). As such it nurtures loyalty and provides scope to establish enduring relationships with customers and a wider network of contacts. Indeed in B2B (business-to-business) contexts, while visits to sites are lower the proportion of sales is significantly higher than that for B2C (business-to-consumer). For some commentators the Internet potentially offers the ultimate tool in effective relationship marketing, (Zineldin 2000, Bloch et al 1996, Rayport and Sviokla 1995, Schwartz 1997, Stroud 1998).
Despite many government initiatives, recent research conducted in Ireland has shown that SME Internet connectivity levels are lower than previously believed, at only 4 - 5% (Ibbotson and Smyth 2000). Connectivity levels in Northern Ireland, the focus of this study, are worse still and while the UK in general lags behind Europe in embracing the importance of e-commerce, Northern Ireland in particular has yet to come to terms with the importance of the Internet in future business activities (McGowan et al 2001, Durkin and Lawlor, 2001).
It is therefore appropriate to examine how e-enablement aspirations at the macro levels of government and policy makers are being translated into practical activities that will enable indigenous small business to embrace the web effectively. This is the application explored here by way of the case study ‘Typerite Limited’, a Northern Irish SME that has successfully implemented an e-commerce web site and e-marketing strategy for its on-line subsidiary InkjetsNOW (www.InkjetsNOW.com).
2 Company Background
Typerite Limited manufacture and supply a large range of printing consumables, including thermal transfer fax rolls, thermal transfer ribbons, MICR (Magnetic Ink Character Recognition) ribbons, hot stamping foil, typewriter and printer ribbons, inkjet and laser toner cartridges. The company sells directly to businesses and 70% of its ‘bricks and mortar’ business is outside the UK and Ireland, in 42 countries worldwide. Movements in exchange rates and competition from cheaper foreign imports have adversely affected Typerite’s sales. The benefits presented by e-commerce were seen as key in the development of a new business strategy. The company saw great potential in the consumer market for some of its products. In August 2000, Typerite launched an on-line subsidiary InkjetsNOW - an e-commerce web site selling directly to the consumer.
3 Company Objectives
Typerite’s objectives were:
i) To develop and promote a web presence.
ii) To develop and implement an on-line sales capability.
iii) To integrate the on-line facility with existing systems to ensure efficient distribution and quality customer care.
iv) To evaluate effectiveness and revise plans / actions accordingly.
4.1 Web Site Development
There are a number of issues to consider when developing a web site. For example it is important to choose a domain name that is easy to remember and reflects the nature of the business being promoted. Typerite choose ‘InkjetsNOW’, firstly because it was available and secondly because it indicates that it sells ‘Inkjet’ (cartridges) and the ‘NOW’ represents the urgency of needing ink when the printer runs out of ink. When choosing a web hosting company, you must understand the package you are paying for, as well as the terms and conditions. When choosing a web designer it is important to see the quality of their work and agree timescales to ensure that your web site is created and updated on time. Typerite’s plans to launch the InkjetsNOW web site were delayed by months because the web designers did not meet the agreed deadlines. In the end, the company had to change web hosts / designers because the first company they used did not offer effective customer support. When planning the design of the web site, it would be advisable to visit competitors’ web sites to find out how their site is laid out and what they are offering. Make the web site easy to navigate with three clicks i.e. click to view, click to order, click to pay. Moreover, make the web pages fast loading, as web surfers are very impatient.
Due to the bad press in recent years, people are worried about Internet security and credit card fraud. There are a number of ways to build trust on-line e.g. having your security and privacy policies published on the web site, offering guarantees, publishing contact details, having different payment options (since not everyone will have a credit or debit card) and keep in contact with the customer by offering after-sales service and support. Another method to build trust on-line is to use a secure payment system to ensure money is transferred securely over the Internet. Web surfers can pay for goods or services whilst on-line by using credit or debit cards (see Durkan et al, 2003 for more on on-line trust in SMEs).
4.2 Integration with Existing Business
Typerite needed to
integrate the on-line business with the existing business to ensure that
operations would run smoothly. Employees were trained to process on-line
If you have an unknown brand, it is hard to establish yourself in a global marketplace. Amazon spent a lot of money developing its brand name and has only started to make a profit this year. Although, not many companies will have the same budgets as Amazon, there are ways to make sure you can get your web site noticed. Make sure that your web site address; email and contact details are on all your business materials. Use different media e.g. web site, stationery, vehicles and they all need to be consistent and integrated. Use on-line and off-line promotions to support each other e.g. advertise your web site in the media (trade, press, radio, billboards) and advertise on other web sites (hyperlinks and banner ads). Moreover, it is important to assess the success of your campaigns e.g. through web site analysis of visitors to the site and number of direct sales or enquiries.
5. Strategies to Overcome Challenges
Typerite faced the web site development, integration with its existing business and marketing challenges with the following strategies:
The development of the InkjetsNOW web site was a learning experience for the company. In 2000, web design companies were few in number and e-commerce sites were very new. Typerite spent a lot of time researching other e-commerce sites and attended training courses and seminars on ‘web development’ and ‘doing business on-line’. The lessons learned from developing the InkjetsNOW web site made it easier and quicker to develop the corporate web site – Typerite (www.typerite.com) e.g. in choosing a reliable web host / designer.
The company conducted an
internal audit of its processes, which support the
A mixture of on-line and off-line promotions was used to promote the InkjetsNOW web site. On-line promotions included: search engine and directory registration, creating email campaigns, creating sales promotions, adding hyperlinks, adding email signatures and on-line advertising. Off-line promotions included: adding the web site address to business materials (merchandise and print), using word of mouth, sending direct mail such as newsletters and flyers, exhibiting at events, advertising in the local press and directories. Typerite have found the following marketing activities most effective: sales promotions (e.g. 10% off) and hyperlinks (e.g. on search engines, trade and business directories). In recent years, banner advertising has been heavily promoted as the means to drive traffic to a web site. However, Typerite found that many banner ad companies take commission on the on-line sales, which makes it difficult for the company to be price competitive. Indeed, many consumers shop on-line because prices are believed to be more competitive on-line e.g. for books, music and flights.
6 Evaluating Web Site Success
A commonly quoted figure is the number of ‘hits’ (requests for file(s) from a server) a web site receives, but there are more sophisticated measures of success e.g. meeting the objectives set, increasing the number of customers and repeat customers, increasing sales, cost savings in marketing and more efficient processes. Moreover, Typerite has been awarded for its successful e-commerce web site and e-marketing strategies.
7 Company Achievements
InkjetsNOW has been in
business for over two years and there are a number of significant
achievements e.g. a new target market (consumers), growth in sales of over
40% and a number of awards. In October 2000, Typerite won the British Telecom
Northern Ireland ‘E-Business of the Month’ Award and went onto win the
overall BT NI ‘E-Business of the Year’ 2001 Award. Furthermore, the company
was highly commended at the ‘Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Northern
Ireland Marketing Awards 2001’ in the Electronic Marketing category and it
was short listed for an ‘E-Commerce Award 2002’ in the
Typerite’s success in e-commerce has been a result of a formalised linkage between academia and industry through the UK’s Teaching Company Scheme initiative. The participant-observer researcher bridged the gap between theoretical marketing constructs in the on-line world and practical implementation in a competitive ‘real world’ environment. The result was a marketing oriented approach to web-site development and the systematic integration of the on-line business with its existing traditional business model, which resulted in improved sales, profitability and internal efficiencies. The awards for ‘best practice’ gained by the company in this twenty-four month period are indicative of a realisation of the aspirations of government to e-enable the SME community in Northern Ireland. Typerite Ltd is a model for other SMEs to follow.
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