Review: 120 Top Tips

Actinic's "Over 120 Top Tips for Running an Ecommerce Web Site" is a handy guide for both novice and veteran e-commerce entrepreneurs.

Running your own e-commerce site can be difficult. Keeping up with trends, security problems, increasing or decreasing sales and marketing tricks can overwhelm many business owners. Wouldn't it be nice to have a handy guide to help you out once in a while? Fortunately, the folks at Actinic have done just that with Over 120 Top Tips for Running an Ecommerce Web Site.

Based in the United Kingdom, Actinic is an e-commerce Web developer specializing in solutions for small-to-medium-sized businesses. CEO Chris Barling and sales manager Bruce Townsend compiled what they consider to be the basics of running a successful e-commerce site, whether you're a newbie or old hat. "Top Tips," while small and sometimes redundant, is an ideal guide for any e-commerce business owner who needs a quick refresher or a new idea.

"In this guide we share the basic steps to setting up shop on the Web, together with the key lessons we have learned that can make the difference between success and failure," they write.

"120 Top Tips" is comprised of six chapters: Introduction to Selling Online, Marketing Your Web Site, Security and the Law, Shipping, Customer Relationship Management and Last Thoughts.

The beginning of Chapter One takes the reader through a necessary reality check every budding entrepreneur should think about. For example, "Make sure that e-commerce is right for you." Just because you sell electronics doesn't mean it's a good idea to do so online, given there are literally hundreds or thousands of established sites selling the exact same products.

Other tips in this section are more obvious, like making sure you control your costs, use technology solutions that already work (don't re-invent the wheel!) and find a reliable host. Even the decision to do everything yourself or outsource your operations needs serious consideration.

The authors focus (rightly so) a lot on security. Con artists are coming up with new tricks every day and it's important that experienced and not-so-experienced businesses owners make security a top priority or risk losing thousands of dollars — or even their entire business. For example, the authors urge, "It is sensible for merchants to put anti-fraud policies in place such as phoning to confirm orders that are (of) a particularly high value or that come from parts of the world more prone to fraud."

While this guide contains plenty of tips, the authors are guilty of throwing in answers to frequently asked questions ("Is e-commerce profitable?") and giving their opinions. There's also a bit of redundancy throughout the guide - which, it can be argued, is a good thing given that certain basics need to be drilled into any e-commerce business owner's head (again, think security).

My favorite section of "120 Top Tips" contains marketing advice for attracting buyers to an online store. Many of the tips are basic - but important to get right from the very beginning. Such as "Ask the question, what's working?" and "Learn from the Success of Others."

"Keep an eye on your competitors, and on successful sites in other market sectors. Don't just copy them; but do learn from what they are doing , and think about how you can adapt good ideas in appropriate ways," say the authors on learning from others.

Other tips they mention go largely ignored by many business owners online. But if followed, might yield plenty of benefit. For example, "Use forums and newsgroups."

"Provided that you participate responsibly and provide genuinely helpful advice, you can get the chance to talk about your company, products and offerings. In fact, done skillfully, people will end up asking you for information on your products and services, and that is really powerful," the authors advise. This doesn't mean you should spam hundreds of online forums. In other words, establish yourself as an expert and reliable resource and people will turn to you when they're ready to buy.

Readers must keep in mind that Actinic is based in the UK and some of the language is British English. There are also numerous references to British Pounds and the Euro, as well as the European Value Added Tax (VAT). For non-European readers, some of the information may be irrelevant, but some of the lessons translate no matter where you are. For example, you better make sure your sales tax structure is correct.

Perhaps the most useful section in "120 Top Tips" is "Ways to Show Customers You Care." No matter what you are selling online, it's likely you will have several competitors fighting for the same dollars you're fighting for. So what can make you stand out? The obvious answer is superb customer service. If your competitors aren't treating their customers right, then that's where you can shine. The authors suggest "Look(ing) for every opportunity to personalize your service" and urge site owners to "Review your service continually." How right they are.

"120 Top Tips" is available directly from Actinic's Web site for only about $10 (US). It's not the be-all, end-all of e-commerce resources, but keeping its many ideas fresh in your mind while building and running your site will no doubt keep your operations on track and potentially very successful.

Devin Comiskey is the Managing Editor of

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