Online retailers are fumbling in the dark

Bernard MatthewsBootiful Berrnard Matthews died yesterday having turned a simple £2.50 start-up “fund” into a multi-million pound empire. He was an astute businessman, turning down advice from so-called marketing experts who wanted his strapline to be about “tough birds”, inventing the “bootiful” line himself. It suggests that the Norfolk entrepreneur knew a thing or two about business even before he achieved a regular turnover of more than £400m a year. One thing is for sure about Bernard Matthews, he knew where his money was coming from and he had a “handle” on his customers. He would have been very depressed indeed with recent news about online businesses.

Recent research shows that few online businesses know if they make a profit at all from their web-based enterprise. Nor do they know which customers or groups of clients bring them in their real income. The study found that less than one in five companies online know whether their websites make any kind of profit each week. Six out of every hundred never even measure their profitability. Of those who do, many only look at it on an annual or quarterly basis. In other words, companies that are selling stuff online could be wasting their money – even losing it – without knowing for several months. And by then it might be too late.

The Internet retailing world seems obsessed with measuring “analytics” – knowing who came to the website, what pages they viewed, where they came from and what computer they were using. You can analyse the search words people used, see how long they spent on your site and use that information to “tweak” things to get more “Google juice”. And guess what – Google Analytics even helps you work out what the best advertising keywords to use on Google AdWords. Funny that.

Meanwhile, the real data companies need, the real information about profitability is frequently being ignored. There is only ONE analysis your web pages need – how much money do they generate…? All the other stuff is fluff, designed to boost your ego and, to some extent, line the pockets of the search engines.

It really is about time that people who run online businesses stopped being led down a garden path by all the “analysis” and concentrate on profits. This latest research merely confirms that too few companies are focusing on the real figures and data they need to. And that’s something you could never have accused Bernard Matthews of doing. He knew what to look for – profits. And that’s what most website owners appear to be ignoring, concentrating instead in visitor numbers, Google ranking and other “nice things”. But nice things don’t help your bank balance. So if you take anything from the sad departure of Bernard Matthews, perhaps it is his focus on the right kind of business numbers.

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