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Internet Retail in 2008

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By now it's not exactly news that consumers are in for a rough and tumble economic year in 2008. But what does their insecurity portend for online retailers looking to break away from the pack and out into the forefront of the market? Should they lay low and wait for the recession to pass? Or should they hedge their bets and make as much lemonade as possible out of all the lemons thrown their way? The answer may be ''a little bit of both.''

Online retailers fared better than expected in 2007, thanks in large part to the reluctance by consumers to spend excessively in shopping malls and department stores, which saw their foot traffic drop by significant numbers. But Amazon, eBay, and Apple are bracing themselves for an aggressive campaign to dominate the Internet market further by taking out the newer and smaller retailers offering similar products and services.

One bright spot in what has been a virtually ceaseless parade of bad economic news: retail sales in January actually increased, albeit by only 0.3%. Most of this spending was done on automobiles, gasoline, and clothes, while other industries remained stagnant or declined. But most economists believe that such occurrences are anomalies in the current market, leading them to make predictions about online retailers for the remainder of 2008.



At the top of the list is the prediction that smaller Internet retailers will take a big hit in 2008. Last year saw a virtual massacre of virtual stores which were simply unable to keep up with bigger, established companies. Revenues are expected to fall considerably for all but the most dominant retail sites.

So what should a retailer do? Instead of focusing on revenues, redirect the business focus to establishment of the brand. Work on the image your company presents, and make your label a leader in whatever niche market it happens to fall under. Focus on a smaller field but with bigger ideas.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is another aspect of online business which needs to be reevaluated. Yes, it’s still the best and most effective way to attract new customers to your site, but it may prove impossible for some retailers who will simply end up fighting a losing battle. The answer? Work smart, not hard.

Again, focusing on the quality of the brand will help drive traffic to your site, even if what you’re selling isn’t at the top of too many shopping lists.

Internet retailers can also do themselves a big favor by getting involved in what is known as social marketing. It’s viral campaigns and stealth marketing taken to an extreme, but it just might be the key to getting the company name out in the marketplace. Most industry experts expect social marketing to become the new model for Internet retailers.

Tough economic times bring about not only consumer frustration but fraud and deceit. An easy but often overlooked aspect of Internet retailing is online fraud. Swindlers and scammers are becoming more common and creative in the ways they attack unsuspecting online merchants. Developing a strategy for business protection should be at the top of the to-do list in 2008.

So take heart in the fact that even though you may not be eBay, Disney, or Microsoft, the online retail jungle may pose challenges which will only make your company stronger and grow the quality of your brand.
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