Properly managed, your website is the most cost-effective environment in which your customers can complete their tasks.

While U.S. retail sales grew just 2 percent in the first nine months of 2008, ecommerce sales grew by 8 percent, according to a JPMorgan analyst. Amazon's sales revenue grew by 31 percent over the last twelve months.

The Web is self-service and self-service is the most cost-effective way to do business. It doesn't matter whether you are managing an ecommerce website, a government or university website, or an intranet. The Web has the potential to make more sales, reduce costs, and improve the overall efficiency and productivity of the organization.

Socitm, (Society of Information Technology Management) is a UK organization focused primarily on supporting local government. According to its research, the average cost of a web interaction is 27 pence, the average cost of a phone interaction is 3.76 Sterling and the average cost of a face-to-face interaction is 9.34 Sterling.

So, it is 14 times cheaper to allow a customer to complete a task on a website than to have the customer complete the same task over the phone. The Web is 35 times cheaper for completing such a task than a face-to-face interaction. Isn't that a compelling business case for a website during a recession?

Despite the value that websites can deliver, most organizations are not spending the management time or money required to make their websites work. Other UK government data indicates that satisfaction with the Web is much lower than with phone or face-to-face. A key reason for dissatisfaction with the Web is that people are not able to do what they came to the website to do.

Most senior managers do not recognize the Web as being of true strategic importance. Most managers I have met over the years do not actually believe that the Web can save or make money. This is not to blame senior management. It is rather to lay down a challenge to the web team.

How do we convince senior management that the website is of strategic importance to the organization? One compelling way is to continuously assemble financial and time-based data that proves the efficiency of the Web.

Why are people buying on the Web but not in stores? Because it's cheaper. When money becomes tight people begin to watch every cent. It costs to drive to the store. If you buy online you avoid that cost. Products often cost less online than they do in stores.

Why can Amazon often sell a product at a cheaper price that its competitor in a physical store? Because its cost of sale is less. Self-service is cheaper. It is cheaper for the organization if a member of staff can get the answer to a policy question on the intranet rather than having to ring someone and ask them that question.

If the person can't find the answer because the search engine is awful, everybody loses. Self-service is only cheaper if it works. We must show senior management the benefits when self-service works, and the costs when it doesn't.

[Editor's Note: On a similar theme, be sure to check out this useful article by Jared Spool: A Recession Strategy for Web Apps.]

About the Author

Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.