If your online community is a niche with a certain age group, a certain demographic, surrounding a specific topic, consider opening up a community store for additional revenue.
Fourth quarter 2003 reports by online gateway credit card processing were good news for online merchants. Online purchasing has become a great alternative for most users because of increased security and encryption. Ease of store navigation and payment processing add to the increased sales.
Now is a great time to consider an online store or storefront.
Take inventory of what your site has:
Take a good look at your demographics of your site. Young? Early 20's? 30's? Baby boomers? Each generation has its own online shopping instincts. The younger the membership, the less cash because of credit card and paypal restrictions but is still do-able.
Take a good look at your subject matter. Does your community thrive around a topic with products and merchandising opportunities? Could you generate some merchandise to fit the niche if nothing is easily uncovered? If you can't create merchandise to fit your niche, could you hire someone to do it?
Take a good look at your content expertise. Could you provide documentation (a book) written by you with specific content? Either a regularly published paperback or spiral could work or an ebook?
Take a good look at affiliate companies to find some matches. Amazon.com is a great resource. Linkshare and Commission Junction have companies to match most websites. Linking to specific products can be a business for you.
How these ideas might work for you:
1. One young online webmaster created his website around a specific gaming system. His "store" isn't really a store at all. He doesn't have a credit card gateway. He doesn't package and ship products. He has no inventory.
His store contains specific product links back to Amazon.com's products. In the early days he carefully selected the products and reviews to make sure his products matched the content of his site. (He now sells a code he wrote to do the same thing and many webmasters have benefitted from this teen's expertise with Amazon.) His demographic group is teen/young 20's and yet he is the "king of amazon" and gets whopping checks from Amazon each quarter.
2. Another community which caters to women's health issues has a store with specially created and gathered products. The owner wrote several books, created t-shirts and other clothing, put the website's logo on mugs to create merchandise targeting the community. Gathering up specialty products that also fit the demographics, this community owner has a true online store.
Using an online store software, a credit card gateway and paypal for payment methods, the store is operated out of the owners home with the help of shipping helpers who arrive daily to spend a few hours packaging and shipping. USPS and UPS both offer shipping solutions online.
3. A third example makes use of online merchandising with Cafepress for logo specific merchandise. One community for pet lovers uses Cafepress to sell t-shirts and mugs with logos and specific animals to match the community members favorites.
The owner set up a Cafepress account, uploaded the community's logo/art, selected merchandise to offer and he was in business. Members purchase their merchandise through Cafepress and the sales commission goes back to the account owner. No credit card gateway needed nor merchandise in the garage. The flipside/con of this set up is that many customers complain of low-quality on some of the products and profit margins are not as high as handling the merchandise locally.
4. Another community administrator described a profitable relationship with Commission Junction for their store. Not truly a store at all, they found companies matching the demographics of their site. Using html files and using the links provided by the different companies, the community owner created a storefront with specific products for linking directly to the online company that pays commission for each sale.
Search and Discover
What works for one site could work for yours. Thinking outside the box might lead you to a combination of two or more of the examples or you might find another solution all together!
Search out affiliate companies that might match your demographics and give them a trial. If they don't work at first, don't assume it isn't working. Try new ways of advertising your store within your community. Try changing the placement of your "store" links. It might not be the products you are offering but simple navigation links that loses customers.
Search out other online communities and learn from them. Many online forums are successful at creating revenue: be their student and observe how they do it.
What works for one site might not work for yours. Affiliate companies may not match your community so you might need to explore Cafepress or your local silk-screening, merchandising company. Check out online gateway programs and your local bank for competitive gateway, merchant processing fees if you are considering opening up your own store.
Although not ideal, having store merchandise in boxes in your garage or spare bedroom can be the way to higher profits or you could create a "warehouse" situation locally. Ask other companies that are already shipping on a regular basis if you could pay them a fee per package for storing and shipping your merchandise. Control of product quality and higher profits come with a price and there are always tradeoffs.
Are Your Brain Cells Challenged?
Begin now to explore options to increase revenue for your community expenses. Write down your ideas. Follow every lead. Your hard work in exploring the options could mean added revenue for you and expanding your members loyalty by providing merchandise to meet their specific needs within your community.
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