6 Steps to Attracting Black Customers Online

by Jamila White, "The E-Commerce Diva"

In the rush to keep up with technology, many African-American business owners are so busy trying to add the latest bells and whistles to their Web sites, get to the top of the search engines, and learn the latest database technology that they often forget this simple fact: people do business with other *people*, not computers. Understanding the importance of relationships is key to attracting African-American buyers online. Here are a few practical tips to getting Black customers to buy more from your Website.

Step 1: Make a personal connection... put a face on it.

Adding photos of realistic-looking people to your Web site will increase your sales. Photos jump out from a page, so even if someone just skims over the words, the photo will create a lasting impression. If you don't have photos of your actual employees or customers, use stock photography.

Here are a few of my favorite sources for photos:

o FotoSearch:

o Getty:

o Corbis:

Royalty-free images start at around $19-35 per image and are much less expensive than rights-managed images. If you have a bigger budget, you can purchase CDs with entire collections of African American stock photographs and illustrations.

Step 2: Establish trust.

When you walk into an establishment, you usually can tell right away if you feel comfortable doing business there. You can see if the place is clean and well maintained, brightly lit, and whether someone friendly is available to greet and help you. On the Internet, your Web site has to do all the talking and all the handholding. If this is a potential customer's first visit to your Web site, they may be uncertain if you're a legitimate business and if they can trust you.

There are a number of ways to alleviate these fears and give your customers peace of mind. First, provide full contact information -- including a telephone number -- on your Web site. Second, show a picture of your location and employees, if applicable. Third, if you are a member of any professional organizations, such as the Better Business Bureau and/or professional trade organizations, this is a great time to display your membership logos. Most importantly, display quotes and testimonials for your current happy customers to show how what great quality products and service your company provides.

Step 3: Use the "word of mouth" network.

From the griots of Africa to barbershops and hair salons to the chat rooms on, at the center of African American culture is the oral tradition. Use this ready-made network to your advantage, and give people the tools to tell their friends and colleagues about your products. A greatway to do this is with an instant "Tell a Friend" button on your Web site. Constant Contact (see Step #6) includes this service as part of it's e-newsletter management program.

Step 4: Network with other Black Web sites.

One way to jump-start the flow of traffic to your Web site is by recruiting customers from other high-traffic sites. You can buy ad space on a well-trafficked site that also attracts a high percentage of your target market. A cheaper alternative is to swap ads with a business that offers products or service that complement, but don't compete with, your own offering. For example, if you offer Web site design, look for someone who offers Web site hosting or network services. This strategy can work both with ads on a Web site, but don't overlook swapping ads in each business' promotional e-mail newsletter. (NOTE: Do *not* swap customer databases or lists of email addresses unless you have specific permission from your customers to do so.)

Step 5: Give your customers a reason to act now.

How many times have you visited a Web site and thought to yourself: "What a great product! I'd like to buy it, but I think I'll come back later." Did you actually go back and buy it? Perhaps not. Help your customers make their decision today: make them an offer they can't refuse. For example, use promotions like "limited time only", "this week only", "act today and take $10 off," etc.

Step 6: Keep in touch.

Remember, it's about relationships. Did you know that customers who buy online usually do so on the fourth to eighth visit to your Web site, and not the first visit? So you'll need to come up with a strategy to get them back to your Web site a second, third, and fourth time. The easiest, simplest, and cheapest method, hands down, is an e-mail list. It isn't enough just to collect e-mail addresses on your Web site and at your vending events -- you have to actually *write* and *send* messages to the list! Strive to get your newsletter out at least twice a month, but if you're just getting started, do quarterly, then build up to monthly, and then build up to every other week.

Here are a few e-mail list services I like:

o Aweber:

o Constant Contact:

o YahooGroups (free):

Essentially, what successful online marketing boils down to, regardless of ethnicity, is relationships, relationships, relationships. Find meaningfulways to connect with your customers, and they will not only reward you with their loyalty, but they'll be happy to spread the word about your Web site as well.

Copyright 2004 Jamila White. All rights reserved.


Jamila White, "The E-Commerce Diva", is an Internet Strategist, Web Designer, and E-Commerce instructor in the Washington D.C. area. For a FREE subscription to her "Sell More Online" e-newsletter, go to

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