Good questions. The answers are complicated.
I am, unsurprisingly, a big fan of having an exceptionally good website.
HOWEVER, I’ve had to learn over time that my primary reason – the real one – is I am a big fan of doing everything exceptionally well. I’m a bit of a perfectionist.
My current websites are better than average and I get a lot of compliments, but they pain me to look at. I have to fight the urge to spend precious time & resources on them because the reality is that 98% of my business is at retail, and my websites get very little traffic.
I used to make a lot of money as a teenager building nice websites to sell product. But back then, buying the top spot on Google was $.05/click and I knew what an exceptionally good deal that was while the market did not. Back then, you could email whoever the hell you wanted without any regard for the spam filter. And it was exceptionally easy to rank organically in Google search results relative to today.
Websites are one of those things that, when done well, are simple & elegant. It seems like an easy project. The reality is that simple & elegant is time-consuming & expensive.
Now, I’m not trying to dissuade you. But you better be willing to hustle to get traffic to your site and make it worthwhile. People don’t come to your website just because you built it.
Think long & hard about what purpose your website will play in your sales funnel. Is it a place for people to learn, develop trust, shop, and buy? Are you going to be able to spend substantial levels of traffic with that intent?
Or is it merely a place that solidifies / strengthens trust when prospective buyers do their due diligence?
Fundamentally, you have to decide who you want to be.
If you want to appear to be a trustworthy, Americanized chinese hardware company like Greentank, Jupiter, AVD, etc-- It’s going to cost an arm & a leg but if you succeed, your margins will improve substantially, too. Being one of these companies means charging customers more for more peace of mind.
OR, you can be another Chinese cart company focused on Alibaba / MadeInChina.com, charging low prices with a relatively low customer acquisition cost.
Before you decide-- perform a SWOT analysis (Google it). What are your strengths & weaknesses? Opportunities & threats? Now put yourself in your competitions shoes and answer again.
Now put yourself in buyers shoes-- what are they missing that they so desperately desire?
Where is the opportunity in your business from a positioning standpoint?
Thank you for the kind words but take the following with a grain of salt–
My hunch is that there is an opportunity for Chinese manufacturers like yours to hire talented American marketing firms – that would normally focus on eBay / Amazon listings – to optimize your Alibaba / MadeInChina listings.
Optimize them for communication, trust, and organic search ranking.
That means writing good, clean, effective copy with no errors. Writing in a voice that American like & trust. Using real product imagery-- lose all the stock / poorly photoshopped stuff. Optimizing for ranking using real, long-term methods-- not tactics that are technically fraud.
And to go a step further, hire American customer support & sales people-- people who can speak clear english with no errors. Ultimately, make it feel like less of a gamble to do business with you.
I mean no offense here about the language stuff. I respect the hell out of you all for speaking multiple languages & hustling so hard. The trust issues are just a reality of how American perceive / trust. You may as well hack it.
This approach is a LOT cheaper than going the website route. Websites alone are expensive but that strategy doesn’t stop there… you will have to spend millions on paid advertising, outbound sales, conferences / conventions, more American staff to make it really work.
The opportunity here – I believe – is to make Alibaba / MadeInChina listings that are 10x to 100x better than the competitions with relatively low effort / cost.
The answer is not to try and win at every channel. That’s called chasing many birds. Usually if you chase many you will catch none, unless you chase them one-by-one.
Pick a channel that has a big opportunity to position yourself well in the eyes of the target audience, where that opportunity aligns with your strengths & resources, and go conquer it.