I'll give you some quick impressions of how our experiment is going. In point form is quicker.
didn't use email, as I don't have your direct, and character limit.......
We have a B&M operation, and sell online through ebay bonanzle and our own website and now our Shop-Ning. We promote ourselves through Twitter, nings, blogs, and more. All promotion tends to tie directly into our home-owned website at greenspotantiques.com.
We built a shopping site using NING as it was easy to use, and quick to build. It has allt the components readily available: Rss feeds, searches, tags, pictures, descriptions, blogs, comments, members, private/public areas, groups, videos, slideshows, and anything we could think of using right now for an online store. IN a word, the software was full-featured, easy to use, free (thus far).
We had used various nings as promotions before, but came to the conclusion a selling site of our own would work best.
With a few modifications to the NING standard network, and USING ONLY the standard NING tools (no extras, no external widgets or programming), we were able to set up a system which;
1. allows us to gather an email list of interested customers.
2. allows us to communiate with potential customers.
3. We could target people and customers, leading them into the site where only OUR stock is for sale.
4. We could do this interactively with people who could leave comments, pictures, requests, etc.
5. We could customize searches and present categories of items.
6. we could present new arrivals quickly and easily.
7. by using chat, email, comments, we could be as close to a customer as if in our store
8. we could extend our physical reach well beyond budgets allowed by print or magazine advertising. .
9. we could feed google-base products dbase with our items.
10 We could show up quickly in online searches.
Although we target local customers (within 200 miles) heavily, we can sell worldwide on any venue we own.
In fact we've had a couple of people sign onto the group while in our physical store.
By offering trade-ins, in-store credit exchanges, under-30 Club savings, and consignment services, we keep may profit centres open simultaneously. The Ning allows us to promote these to pre-qualified members. our visitor stats are quite good, listing greenspot.ning.com in the top 750,000 on the net. A good standing for a single-store venue. Combined with our other web properties, we have quite a reach daily insourcing from various avenues.
The simple idea of the Ning was to provide a sales venue where we can build a relationship with our customers over time.
We have seen rapid rise in sales through the Ning site -- either as lead generation for consignments, outright purchases, Sales TO a customer directly, interest generated for a visit to our actual physical store, and more. Overall, given thecurrent cost of a ning ($0.00) It has outperformed any other possible venue we might consider, including eBay, bonanzle and others. It has grown in traffic in 3 months to outpace our own 3 year old website.
Overall, a great experience, and it seems to be getting better all the time.The only drawback we see thus far is that , given so many tools at hand, many users do not have the creativity to quickly use them to their fullest. We still get direct emails from members asking questions, rather than their using the built-in system on ning.
Either way, so long as they contact us, is ok with us.... i'm sure the system's full capabilities will be used more down the road.