Open-source ecommerce (OSC) programs are wonderful in theory: cheap or even free money -making programs ready for the taking. So why isn’t everyone an Internet millionaire?
The answer is that many obstacles prevent potential OSC users from learning about these programs — obstacles that no proprietary program would experience. Most OSC programs are created by volunteer programmers, whose interests lie in areas other than marketing and product communications.
There’s an old joke that assembly instructions are so awful because they pick the least -needed person from the manufacturing floor to write them. In the open-source world, if no volunteer wants to write Web site information about the product, they don’t bother to pick anyone at all. There could be a dynamite product that could change the world, but only the developers would know about it.
It doesn’t matter whether a product is free or for purchase. Every potential customer tries to satisfy basic information needs as they move through the classic “sales cycle” of Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. If a customer cannot satisfy their need for information on a product, they simply move on to a product that does. Imagine that you were at a car dealer who refused to lift the hood of a car, who wouldn’t allow test drives, or who refused to give you a brochure that lists the car’s features. Can you see yourself purchasing that car anyway? I didn’t think so.
Now let’s go back to the OSC world. Few makers of OSC programs even offer the most basic screenshots of their product. Screenshots are necessary for the very first step in the sales cycle: Awareness. Many makers do offer demos, it is true, but demos are appropriate for the end of the sales cycle, the Desire phase. A demo is equivalent to the auto industry’s test drive, which is the very last step before you buy the car. By ignoring the most critical phase of the sales cycle, the beginning, a huge percentage of OSC sales are lost before they even start.
Every software marketer knows that in order to sell a program, he or she must offer the following ten items to potential customers or lose the sale:
- A factual description of the program. The best product description is concise and written in plain language, without technical talk and hard-sell phrases.
- Actual screenshots. Potential customers won’t buy if they can’t find out what it looks like. At best, screenshots should be used liberally to explain important features. At a minimum, screenshots should be used to show the storefront (what the customer sees) and the Admin (the “back-end” or private area of the Web site where the owner maintains his or her store).
- Who the product is for. For example, small, medium or large business; beginner or advanced technical skills. A product that sells to “everyone” sells to no one.
- Features list. A potential customer must be able to find out what the program does. What are its unique features? The best will include a “What’s New? ” list of features that have been added since earlier versions so existing customers can know what they will get if they upgrade.
- Specifications. Also known as requirements. What kind of computer operating system and supporting programs are required. It’s on the outside of every software box ever sold.
- Pricing. E-commerce programs are used by business people, who are likely to consider the full lifecycle cost. A low or free initial cost of a program is irrelevant if the product’s life cycle will be littered with bug fixes, crashes, or if it’s difficult to find consultants for it. Such a product will be abandoned early in the lifecycle.
- A user manual. Also included with every software box ever sold. Who would buy a new car if there was no manual in the glovebox? Or no third-party manuals available? Can you imagine an automaker telling customers to check the forums or the “Wiki” to learn about their new car?
- A working demo of the program. After a potential customer has reviewed everything else, the very last step before making a decision will be to test drive one or more programs.
- A free trial. All of the programs reviewed here do offer a free trial, so this item is not reviewed below.
- Support information. If the maker does not directly offer support, at a minimum they must refer customers to a source of support. The best software makers will certify third-party consultants and developers.