Turn your SCUBA website into an E-commerce Site
by Eddy Wong
March 2005
  Tired of "maintaining" your SCUBA website? If you feel this way it means that you are working for your website rather than making your website work for you. If you have "surfed" around the Internet, you've probably seen the likes of Amazon.com and Expedia. Two popular websites for shopping and travel. The dawn of the information revolution is upon us already. Uninterrupted "self-service" is the name of the game and caters to a population that is increasingly Internet-savvy. Has this technology reached the SCUBA industry? Barely. Do you want to cater to a diving population that is increasingly Internet-savvy that wants to be pampered and spends considerable amounts yearly on diving trips? If your answer is yes, read on, here are some tips to make your website turn from an electronic brochure into an e-commerce website.

Put your website on the map
The first order of business is to make sure that people can find your website. To do this, you have to make your website be "crawled" by the major search engines like Google, Yahoo, and MSN. This makes sure that your website is found whenever somebody searches for certain keywords, like "dive operator Cozumel" or "SCUBA Hawaii", for example. All of these sites have submission pages, so that you can add your site to their "crawl" list. Your local tourism association, travel guides and SCUBA guides are other places where you should consider adding a link. Some of them require a nominal fee. If you are located at a popular dive destination, it is most likely that your next customer will come from another country or even another continent. That is why you should have a presence on the Internet. On a recent survey I conducted, when asked "how do you pick a dive operator?" 67% of respondents said they get recommendations from buddies and 27% said they make an Internet search and check the dive operator's website. Even after getting a recommendation from a buddy, the first thing they do is checking the website, which is found most probably by ... you guest it, using a search engine.

Make your site work for you 24x7x365
Your site is up 24 hours a day, every day of the year already, why not use it as a way to provide continuous customer service? Posting an updated schedule of weekly or monthly excursions or classes is one way to serve your customers. This way, they don't have to call in to check the schedule or come in to check your schedule on the board. As a result, you end up saving your employees' time that otherwise might be used answering phone calls. This will save you on phone bills too. Once you have your schedule posted on your site, a next step is to take reservations online. You can start by providing a simple form that allows your customers to fill out contact information and preferences. You can take a step further and take payments online using services like Paypal, which is a popular service that allows your customers to charge their credit cards on your website. This will give you the advantage of keeping an accurate record of prepaid customers and will avoid those "non-paying customers" who might have slipped through the cracks. With Paypal you also have the ability to "hold" a charge and do the actual funds transfer after you provide the service.

Get the word out on the Internet
Technology has made targeted advertising affordable to even small businesses nowadays. Google has an innovative ad syndication program where you can register to display an ad on a relevant website based on a set of keywords. The service is called Google AdWords. For example, you register to show an ad of your website based on the keyword "Scuba Cozumel", then, any content-oriented website that displays Google ads, like a SCUBA-oriented bulletin board, could display your ad. Let's say that on that bulletin board somebody discusses "SCUBA" and "Cozumel" and that's how your ad might be displayed. You really don't have control of when and where your ad is going to show, but it will be within relevant context. You do have; however, control of how many times the ad is displayed and how much money you spend per month. Since this program is increasingly popular on the Internet, you maximize your chances that your ad will be displayed on a relevant page somewhere on the Internet.

Start developing a computerized profile of your prospects and customers
If you have regulars, you know about your customers better than anybody else: their training, their interests and their equipment needs. Your chances to compete online with a major online SCUBA retailer like leisurepro.com are probably very slim. However, you have the advantage of being able to add the "personal touch" to your customers. If you keep a record of their training level and their interest, you might have a good chance to sell them on equipment. If you have a form on your website already, this is a good way to start a profile of your regular customers or prospects. Keep that information around it can be useful for promotions, and merchandising.

Use the "buddy system" to your advantage
Having a physical storefront or a virtual storefront on the Internet is not a recipe for success anymore. In order to compete you need to use every tool available to promote your business. One such tool is the "buddy system", which is essential in SCUBA diving. When we got our open water training, they told us to never do SCUBA without a buddy, so it is very likely that any SCUBA diver will have a circle of "buddies". So, use this for marketing promotions. Make sure that your customers refer you to their buddies and give them incentives to do so. You can use a simple form on your website or use an online referal service like referralblast.com. This is called "viral marketing".

By following these tips you will be on your way to make your website not a just a brochure, but an e-commerce site that works continuously for you. New divers coming into the market are Internet-savvy, and as such, they like practical and time-saving solutions for travel, shopping and SCUBA diving. Join the myriad of industries that are already on the Internet or you will be soon left behind.

Links of interest:

Google's submission page
Google AdWords advertising program
Yahoo's submission page
MSN's submission page
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