Strategies for the Online Marketing of Cultural Products

by Cheryl Robbins


The Internet and digital technologies offer the opportunity for cultural product retailers to access markets worldwide, opening up new channels for revenue. The aim of this study is to analyze the opportunities for online sales and marketing of cultural products, and to develop appropriate strategies.

A survey of cultural product e-commerce Websites was conducted to analyze global trends in the online marketing of cultural products. The results showed that there is room for flexibility in pricing, as in the niche market of cultural products value trumps price. In addition, it is important for cultural product retailers, when designing e-commerce Websites, to provide abundant cultural information, especially regarding the background of products, as well as clear visual information and detailed product descriptions. It is also crucial to build trust and credibility in the eyes of online shoppers through interaction with customers to create a sense of community.


According to the database of artisanal products maintained by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in 2003, the global export of wooden furniture generated US$16.6 billion; ceramics, US$1.4 billion; candles and tapers, US$1.4 billion; and artificial flowers, US$1.3 billion, and handicraft artisans constitute a significant segment of the world economy (Wherry, 2005). Although research is limited, available evidence provides clear indications of the actual and potential economic clout represented by cultural products within the economies of developing nations (Kerr, no date). As the export market in cultural products represents the highest earnings potential for artisans, knowledge of the marketplace is crucial, yet the global marketplace is alien territory to most artisans (Kerr, no date).

It is essential that artisans, particularly those living in remote villages, be able to access markets for their works outside of their local communities to keep them out of poverty. Electronic commerce can use the Internet as a tool to link cultural products to global markets (Boylan, 2002).

Electronic commerce or e-commerce is often used interchangeably with the term electronic business or e-business. E-business covers a broad range of activities including the marketing, buying, selling, delivering, servicing and paying for products, services and information across (nonproprietary) networks linking an enterprise and its prospects, customers, agents, suppliers, competitors, allies and complementors (Weill & Vitale, 2001, p.5). Some analysts define e-commerce as simple buying and selling over electronic networks (Batchelor & Webb, 2002). In this paper, the term e-commerce will be used and will refer to the marketing and selling of products over electronic networks.

One of the specific areas where the Internet offers good opportunities for growth is the specialized market niche (Razi, Tarn & Siddiqui, 2004), such as that of cultural products. Cultural products include textiles, wood, ceramics, glass and metal products and works that embody aesthetic features and production technologies that are deeply enmeshed in each artisan's local traditions (Littrell & Miller, 2001). They are typically called handicrafts, but can include items with a high ratio of machine-to-hand production (Lee & Littrell, 2003).

However, cultural product retailers may have some concern about starting up or investing in an e-commerce Website due to the still vivid memory of the DotCom bust that began in mid-2000. Although these concerns are not unfounded, there is reason to be optimistic. From a survey published by The Industry Standard in 2001 (Helft, 2001), it was found that 65 percent of online retailers survive over the long-term, and some companies experience good growth, which should not be surprising given that e-commerce as a whole continues to expand at a healthy rate. Just in the US, retail e-commerce sales reached a little over US$93 billion in 2005, up from a revised US$76 billion in 2004, an annual gain of 22.2 percent. From 2000 to 2005, retail e-sales increased at an average annual growth rate of 27.3 percent, compared with 4.3 percent for total retail sales (US Census Bureau, 2007).

The aim of this study is to analyze the opportunities for online sales and marketing of cultural products, and to develop appropriate strategies.

Literature Review

Culture and commerce have clearly become intertwined in the context of the cultural and creative industries. In the postmodern world of global cultural consumption, culture has become a commodity to be packaged and sold much like any other product (Smith, 2003, p.11). Jackson (2002) points out that traditionally "culture" has been associated with meaning and creativity with works of the imagination and aesthetic practices that are far removed from the pursuit of economic profit. By contrast, "commerce" has conventionally been regarded with disdain by culturally minded social scientists signaling a vulgar and materialistic world devoid of morality, where human agency is subordinated to the logic of capital. He argues that it is necessary to transcend the divide between the "cultural" and the "economic", noting that there have been repeated calls for a convergence of the two.

Evolution of crafts and their markets

Various studies have described the ways artisan communities have adapted to reorganize and adjust to changing global economic circumstances and market demands (Scrase, 2003). Artisans develop strategies to accommodate fluctuating global markets and interest in their crafts, often producing inferior crafts for a global market that have little resemblance to the meaning-rich, specialized crafts that are reserved for ceremonies or niche markets. Thus, two types of craft production can be differentiated—strategic craft production in a globalized market and traditional craft production for specific niche markets (Scrase, 2003). Nakatani (2001) notes that artisanal crafts that are seen to be of high quality, rare with great artistic beauty, or intricately constructed have a specialized and elite consumer market. These elite consumers are most likely to respond to tales concerning the craft involved, where the item is from, the location of, and specific details about, the artisan community.

Lee & Littrell (2003) identified five motivations for consumer selection of cultural products: (1) Consumers motivated toward creating aesthetic experience access meaning through the physical features of cultural products. Viewing, touching and learning about a product's structural and aesthetic qualities provides an inward, individualistic, and effective interaction with cultural products. (2) Managing daily life is facilitated for consumers through purchasing products used for eating, cooking, playing, dressing and decorating. When products spark momentary surprise, delight or diversion, the quality of life is enhanced. (3) Consumers motivated toward establishing self-identity are attuned to creation of a personal style though products that differentiate them from others. (4) Connection with others emerges as consumers focus outwardly to other people, their communities, and ways of life. Consumers' understanding of artisan processes forms a path for making these connections. (5) Affirmation of social responsibility is facilitated through expanding insights on global issues during the consumption process.

Apart from overseas travel, it is largely by way of catalogues and visits to "fair-trade" stores that consumers are able to purchase "authentic" artisanal products. Internet Websites have recently become important promotional tools for artisanal goods. Yet, this remains a largely under researched area (Scrase, 2003).

Evolution of marketing strategies

Before the application of the Internet and digital technologies, conventional marketing concepts relied on "the 4 Ps": product, price, place and promotion. These variables are all interdependent. Taken together, they constitute a certain mix that is used to clearly differentiate one's products from those of one's competitors. Product is the "currency" which ultimately gets exchanged for cash, while the price to the consumer or last purchaser in the chain must be such that it is competitive and allows profit objectives to be achieved. There are often numerous paths (i.e. channels) which a product can take in reaching customers, and channel strategy may be dictated by cost and other constraints. Promotion can take many forms: advertising in various media, events, press releases, trade shows, brochures, flyers and, more recently, Internet sites to name a few. Promotion means to create awareness, but more importantly compels the buyer to buy (Volker, 1998).

Wind and Mahajan (2002, p. xiii) explain that with the advent of the Internet, marketing strategies have had to evolve as modern consumers have transformed into hybrid consumers, taking advantage of both online and offline channels to purchase products and services. They introduce five areas that represent important intersections between the potential of new technology and enduring patterns of human behavior. They are customerization, community, channel options, competitive value and choice tools (Wind & Mahajan, 2002, p. 12).

The first of these is customerization. Customerization is something that consumers do for themselves. For example, consumers might be allowed to choose from a number of elements that can be combined into a personal Web page (Wind & Mahajan, 2002, pp. 70-71). The move toward customerization has many benefits for consumers and organizations. For consumers, it provides products, services, messages and experiences that better meet their needs. For the organization, it can protect against commoditization, reduce inventory, help to redesign operations and planning, encourage customers to spend more on premium products and services, build relationships with customers, improve channel management and create a platform for innovation (Wind & Mahajan, 2002, p. 72).

The second area is virtual communities, which have the potential for a greater geographic scope (connecting people around the world) and a narrower focus (connecting people with very specific interests) than most offline communities. Communities offer benefits to both members and organizations. Organizational gains include reduced search costs for finding customers, increased propensity for customers to buy, enhanced ability to target and greater ability to tailor and add value to existing products and services. For members, communities give them the power to engage in passionate discussions on topics of interest and to interact with people around the world (Wind & Mahajan, 2002, pp. 97-98).

The third area is channel options. Integration of online and offline marketing channels promises to offer more speed, convenience and options. New online channels create opportunities not only to develop new businesses, but also to drive business across channels. It is clear that a strategy that combines bricks and clicks can be more powerful than either one alone (Wind & Mahajan, 2002, pp. 119-120).

In terms of the fourth area, competitive value, the value equation is changing as a result of e-commerce. Although product and price remain important variables in that equation, service, brand, speed, convenience, novelty, peace of mind, experience and entertainment, information in context, education and personal growth, control and social/psychological rewards must all be factored in. Not every consumer will value all of these components, or value them all for every product or purchase occasion. These drivers of value are also interrelated, interacting with one another to increase or decrease overall value (Wind & Mahajan, 2002, pp. 149-151).

The fifth area is choice tools. The Internet is a rich and active source of information that consumers use in making decisions. Some 80 percent of Americans with Internet access search for information online. Consumers are overwhelmed with choices, with the rate of new product introduction and product line proliferation increasing rapidly. The overload of data, which has been accelerated by online technologies, has created the need for search engines to find information, decision-making tools to transform that information into knowledge, and life management tools (Wind & Mahajan, 2002, pp. 178-179). The challenge for organizations is to find new ways of creating value by offering more powerful tools or providing better integration through combining online tools with unbiased information (Wind & Mahajan, 2002, p. 197).

Where the Internet and online marketing strategies may have the most impact is in market niches. In his Long Tail theory, Anderson (2006, p. 52) explains that the world's culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of mainstream products toward a huge number of niches, and this is resulting in a change in the shape of the demand curve. By convention, the demand curve displays quantity demand as the independent variable (x axis) and the price as the dependent variable (y axis). The law of demand states that quantity demanded moves in the opposite direction of price (if all other factors are held constant) and this effect is observed in the downward slope of the demand curve (NetMBA Business Knowledge Center, no date). At the top of the demand curve, also called the head, are products that are popular in the market and that sell many units. As the demand curve slopes downward, a "tail" is formed. However, with all of the niche products that are offered on the Internet, demand never falls to zero, creating a "long tail" (Anderson, 2006, p. 52). Basically, this means that in an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare. It is the aggregate sales in the newly available niches that turn the massive expansion of choice into an economic and cultural force.

On the Internet, there is little cost of offering products and with instant access to information about available products consumers exhibit consistent behavior, in that they look at everything (Anderson, 2006, p. 8). The new efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing, and marketing are changing the definition of what is commercially viable. Growing affluence has allowed a shift in consumer behavior from bargain shopping to mini-connoisseurs with a thousand little indulgences that set them apart from others (Anderson, 2006, p. 11).

Challenges for retailers of cultural products

As a venue for marketing cultural products, the Internet holds immense potential. However, questions remain as to enhancing its effectiveness. Obstacles to online shopping include difficulties in finding specific items, lack of variety and assortment of product offerings, disappointing customer services and wariness about unknown Internet retailers. Other potential problems associated with online shopping include little product information, low quality pictures, limited product selection, few service features and poor interfaces (Lee & Littrell, 2003).

These are some of the challenges facing artisan enterprises as they shift from local patronage toward market commercialization. This study attempts to fill some of the void that exists in the literature between the retailing of cultural products and online marketing strategies.


Research design

As there is not much available in the literature regarding online marketing of cultural products, this study focused on basic aspects of online marketing such as price, content, delivery time, payment methods, shipping methods, obstacles and strategies.

A survey of online cultural product retailers worldwide was conducted to understand the strategies implemented by these retailers. For preliminary sample selection, the search engine was used, as it features a comprehensive directory of the Web, and serves as a reference for most major search engines and directories such as Yahoo!, Netscape, Google and Lycos (Lee & Littrell, 2003). Under the Arts category, the subcategory of Native and Tribal was chosen, and sites in the sub-subcategories of Africa, Asia, North America and Oceania were observed, to attempt to include the online marketing experiences of a diversity of regions. similar search results in the subcategory of Ethnic and Regional in the Shopping category were also observed. Those Websites that offer cultural products, as defined by Littrell & Miller (2001) and Lee & Littrell (2003), were identified. Other criteria included the function of retail sales, in which consumers are able to purchase products using information provided on the Website (Lee & Littrell, 2003). Exclusion criteria included broken link to the site, unavailability of the site or overlapping of sites in different categories. From a total of 348 sites, 64 sites that met the criteria were entered into an Excel spreadsheet to generate a random sample.

From that sample, 10 Websites were randomly selected. This number was chosen to provide both an overview and in-depth comparison of the practices and marketing strategies of online cultural product retailers. These Websites were content analyzed based on six categories of information relevant to the online marketing of cultural products: (1) company information (e.g. date of establishment of Website, mission statement); (2) product information (e.g. the number of products offered, types of visual and descriptive information); (3) cultural information (e.g. cultural and artisan background information); (4) craft media (e.g. wood, fabric) and types of crafts (e.g. item to use or display in the home, clothing); (5) transaction and fulfillment (e.g. price, payment methods, delivery time, shipping methods and shipping prices) and (6) use of digital technologies as marketing methods (e.g. e-newsletters, blogs, podcasts, vlogs and sales on auction site such as e-Bay). The first five of these were put forth by Lee & Littrell (2003), while the last was added by the author to better understand how online cultural product businesses are approaching promotion of their sites and products using digital technologies. All data and information obtained from the Websites were entered on questionnaires that included both close-ended and open-ended questions, and were analyzed qualitatively.


The Website survey was conducted between September and October 2007, and thus the findings of this study are limited to the time when the research was carried out.

The Website survey only provides information on marketing trends, i.e. practices, in the online marketing and retailing of cultural products. Unfortunately, for most Websites, sales volume and related information is not available, so it is not possible to provide insight on which are the most successful examples or, in other words, the best practices. In addition, in an effort to lay the basic groundwork of the study of opportunities for the online marketing of cultural products, this study made use of qualitative comparisons among Websites included in a global survey of online cultural product retailers. Thus, while differences in trends are identified, it is not clear whether the differences are statistically significant.


The Websites included in the global survey were established between 1996 and 2007 and eight (80%) follow a bricks n' clicks business model (Table 1), meaning that there is evidence of a physical presence, such as a store or office, and the online store is a supplement or complement to that.

All of the surveyed Websites include a mission statement. About half of the mission statements express the desire to provide better quality and more diverse cultural products to consumers and the remaining half express the desire to appeal to collectors or customers searching for special products.

Product information

Among the 10 Websites that were analyzed, six (60%) offer at least 100 products (Table 2), with four (40%) offering more than 200 products and only one (10%) offering less than 50 products. However, that one Website is operated by a single artisan rather than promoting products from a group of artisans (data not shown). Also, as shown in Table 2, all surveyed Websites (100%) provide visual information with a range of one to eight photos per product.

In addition, some descriptive information for the products is available on nine (90%) of the Websites and includes materials, location from where materials were obtained, colors, condition of product, when it was added to the online catalog and whether in stock or not. For all surveyed Websites (100%), product dimensions are available. However, no product weight information is available on nine (90%) of the surveyed sites, and on the one site where it does exist, it is not available for all products.

Cultural information

On nine of the ten (90%) Websites surveyed, all products are accompanied by cultural information (Table 3). For the remaining Website, cultural background is provided for some products. Artisan background is provided on eight of ten (80%) Websites. Other types of cultural information include introduction to tribes or peoples and explanations of symbols and legends.

Craft media and types of crafts

The most popular types of crafts are items to decorate the home and accessories (offered by 100% and 90% of the surveyed Websites, respectively) (Table 4). Clothing is offered on two Websites, and items that fall into the Other category are offered on two Websites, and include musical instruments and weapons.

The most popular craft media categories are wood (80%) and ceramic/pottery (80%). Only 50 percent of globally surveyed Websites offer leather products and only 30 percent offer products in the fabric category. A majority (80%) of globally surveyed Websites offer products with craft media that fall into the other Category. These include silver, semi-precious and non-precious stones, animal bones, beads, wicker, bronze and pewter.

Transaction and fulfillment

Most (70%) of the globally surveyed Websites accept international orders and offer international shipping (Table 5). Price range for products is from US$2.99 to US$6,550.

Nine of the ten (90%) globally surveyed Websites accept major credit cards, while four (40%) offer payment gateway option. Checks (60%) and money orders (40%) are available options with orders to be shipped once the funds have cleared. On seven Websites (70%) delivery time is unavailable. For the remaining three Websites, delivery time varies for each product or domestic delivery times are two to seven days. Only one Website lists international delivery time which is 28 days.

Shipping methods include domestic postal service for four Websites (40%) and international courier service such as UPS or Federal Express for three Websites (30%). This information is unavailable on 50 percent of Websites. In terms of shipping costs, this information is not offered on the Website in 60 percent of cases. In two (20%) cases, domestic shipping is free. Among the two Websites on which international shipping prices are available, one offers a flat rate of US$5 and another offers quotes depending on total weight of order. For example, for a 7-pound order the international shipping cost is US$8 to US$88. Shipping information is often deficient, in that not all of the details and costs are clearly stated, making it difficult for buyers to estimate their total costs.

Use of digital technologies as marketing methods

Table 6 lists digital technologies and online marketing strategies among globally surveyed Websites. The most common digital technologies used in marketing are e-newsletter (20%) and offering products on an auction site such as eBay (20%). Other marketing strategies include limited edition or exclusive items (40%) and encouraging visitors to e-mail product Web pages to a friend (30%). In addition, one Website offers a function that shows similar products bought by others (i.e. recommended items). Gift vouchers, gift certificates and an invoice without prices for gift orders are offered by 30 percent of Websites, which implies that gift shoppers make up a significant portion of cultural product Website customers.

A number of methods were used to strengthen credibility including authenticity guaranteed statements and certificates of authenticity, as well as membership logo from a professional association. This, along with the use of limited edition and exclusive products, implies that value and credibility are important factors.


This study attempted to build part of the foundation for understanding which strategies may be of use in the online marketing of cultural products. The timing appears to be right for cultural product retailers to seek new markets for their products outside of their local areas. In this age of the global economy, coupled with post-modern consumer sentiments, crafts represent a traditional form of consumer goods, which for some buyers have great appeal. In other words, the consumption of crafts allows for a reconnection back to earlier and earthier forms and designs in a fragmented, fractured and technological world (Scrase, 2003). Thus, it is no wonder that there has been an emergence of "ethnic chic", which is the hybridization of fashion and "earthy" and "natural" forms (Scrase, 2003). The Internet and digital technologies provide cost-effective ways of reaching a world of potential customers if the correct strategies are employed.

It appears that the most successful cultural product Websites are those that provide thorough company information, extensive product information in both written and visual formats, insights about the culture and artisans who made the products, a variety of products for decorating the home and clear information on purchase transaction and fulfillment (Lee & Littrell, 2003).

However, it is also clear that e-commerce efforts work best in complement or supplement to a physical presence. This is due to a prevalence of offline purchase preferences. For example, in the US, even the most tech savvy of consumers—the 18 to 25 year olds (Generation Y)—are not strictly cyberconsumers. In a recent survey of more than 600 Generation Y respondents (51 percent of whom had made online purchases in the past year) nearly 40 percent learned about a product online, but bought it at a physical store, whereas only 9.3 percent began and ended their search online. When asked where they would prefer to shop, nearly three-quarters chose a store rather than online (Wind & Mahajan, 2002, p. xiv). Although online retail sales are growing year on year, in the US they account for only 2.5 percent of total retail sales (US Census Bureau, 2007). This shows a need to establish both online and offline channels for marketing. From the results of this study it appears that most organizations understand this, with 80 percent of surveyed Websites showing evidence of a physical presence, such as a store/gallery or office address.


Product selection was good among the studied Websites, meaning that most offered at least 100 products. Cultural product Websites with the greatest appeal are those with product information that includes who, where, and how a product is made and cultural information such as the meaning underlying the products and the lifestyles of the artisans (Lee & Littrell, 2003). Creating more and interesting content is an area in which cultural product retailers need to focus more effort. Content is what draws people to the site. In a niche market, such as cultural products, content should give clear signals that the organization knows what customers need and the approach to content will have to be at the level of sophistication that is appropriate to target consumers (Tiernan, 2000, p.120).

In addition to the quality of information, the quality of visual images is crucial, especially for those consumers who are motivated toward creating an aesthetic experience as part of the shopping process. While customers cannot touch, handle or smell craft materials or judge product workmanship on the Internet, enhanced Website photographs and accompanying narratives can help to simulate a multi-sensory experience. Lively descriptions of the products using rich sensory language and vivid product images, including large views of the products, views of product details and side and back views of the products, enhance the customer experience (Lee & Littrell, 2003).

Content can come in many forms. Consumers with strong motivations to purchase crafts that help them to manage their daily lives want examples of how to use cultural products. This can include a series of photographs depicting coordinated lines of textile, candle and pottery tableware items or clothing accessorized with jewelry, sashes or belts (Lee & Littrell, 2003). In addition, Websites promoting cultural products have a distinctive opportunity to market their products in ways that help customers act on their concerns about artisan enterprise and ecological sustainability. Websites with a few well-placed stories about how raw materials are gathered and processed or how artisan wages help to enhance household well-being could encourage customers to affirm their social responsibility through Website purchases (Lee & Littrell, 2003).

In addition, content should be timely and of immediate interest to the visitor. Information should be updated frequently to encourage people to return and to rely on the insights and expertise offered on the Website (Mosley-Matchet, 1997).

Although product selection and abundance of quality content are important in marketing successfully online, even more important is the organization of products and information. With the evolution of online retail has come the revelation that being able to recategorize and rearrange products unlocks their real value. Online stores are free to list products in whichever, and however many, sections they choose. This captures the attention of potential buyers and stimulates demand for products that are cleverly positioned (Anderson, 2006, p. 157).

This study did not focus on site design or organization of information. However, it was found that on one globally surveyed site, for each product that was browsed recommendations for similar products appeared. This feature should be considered in the design of an online store as it offers all of the demand-generation power of advertising but at virtually no cost (Anderson, 2006, p. 110). In addition, such filter technologies are important because niche products are meant to appeal to a narrow set of tastes. According to the Long Tail theory, such technologies not only drive demand down the tail of the demand curve, but they also increase satisfaction by connecting people with products that are more right for them than the broad-appeal products at the head of the demand curve (Anderson, 2006, p. 119).

Craft media

Among the surveyed cultural product Websites, the most popular types of crafts were those used to decorate the home and accessories. This implies items that are used to "show off" or that can be "conversation pieces" or that create a unique style. Thirty percent of globally surveyed cultural product Websites offered gift vouchers or special invoices for gift orders. Thus, gift shoppers may also represent a significant market segment. Cultural product retailers may want to design their sites with the appropriate types of products and shopper demographics in mind.


In the niche markets of cultural products, it appears that value trumps price. This is consistent with the findings of a study on how art-related retailers define and achieve success. Craft retailers who reported greater success did not engage in competitive pricing (Paige & Littrell, 2002).

This implies that cultural product retailers should not try to compete by offering the lowest prices. Instead, they should focus on providing unique works that are difficult to find anywhere else than on their Websites, and they should be confident enough to ask for the price that is truly representative of the value of those works. Among the surveyed Websites, 40 percent offered limited series or products exclusive to that Website, some even with a serial number to enhance their value as collector's items. Thus, cultural product retailers may consider offering limited edition works with each individually numbered and develop exclusive items.

In terms of payment methods, most (90%) of the surveyed Websites allow online purchase with a major credit card. However, first-time buyers may feel reluctant about entering their credit card information (Razi, Tarn & Siddiqui, 2004). Four (40%) of the surveyed Websites make use of payment gateway. If cultural product retailers hope to enter global markets, the use of internationally recognized payment gateways might be beneficial in raising transaction success.

This is because security is a key issue in transaction success. Payment gateways facilitate online payments by connecting a secure order form with merchant account at a processing bank. The gateway takes the submitted data and presents them to the processing bank. When it receives a response from the bank, it presents that return data to the site of origin for appropriate handling. All major gateway providers such as and Paypal house their operations in state-of-the-art datacenters and use the latest security methods to keep data safe. These gateways are also fully compliant with the security initiatives put forward by the major credit card providers (Conde, 2005).

Digital technologies

Among global cultural product retailers, the most popular online marketing method is the e-newsletter. These newsletters can be sent out to registered users, usually referred to as members, to inform them of new products, special promotional offers and special events. This is a good way to keep the Website fresh in the minds of those who have already visited it or have purchased from it.

It is interesting to note the lack of digital technologies used in online marketing of cultural products. None of the surveyed sites made use of blogs, vlogs (or YouTube) or podcasts.

For small organizations, blogs may enhance sales, but may not be a good trade-off in terms of time taken away from other aspects of the business, such as the development of new products. However, if there is the manpower available, blogs provide marketing, product development and public relations opportunities (Wright, 2006, p. 57). Every industry has leading blogs and having a high-profile blog is very positive for a business, as it can build up all-important credibility (Wright, 2006, p. 120).

More recently, a different form of blogging has emerged: downloadable audio broadcasts, called podcasts. These are similar to radio broadcasts but can be listened to at any time of the day from one's computer or iPOD, from where this media form gets its name (Caulkin, 2006). Blogs and podcasts provide organizations with opportunities for customer interaction and feedback (Wright, 2006, p. 75).

Vlogging is a new media form that combines sound and images with blogging and tends to have niche audiences (Kushner, 2006). Thus, cultural organizations with a niche product can greatly benefit from this new media form. Moreover, blogs, podcasts and vlogs (or YouTube videos) have the added benefit of driving traffic to a Website by providing interesting content.

Overcoming obstacles to online marketing

The most common obstacles to the online marketing of cultural products are the lack of awareness of the culture and the Website itself, and a lack of confidence in purchasing products online. There are several ways to overcome these obstacles.

One is to increase the number of promotional channels. For example, two of the surveyed Websites also have a presence on eBay. It is interesting to note that most of eBay's sales volume comes from nearly 400,000 small- and medium-sized merchants worldwide who use eBay as a storefront, but that also have their own Websites (Anderson, 2006, p. 203). Since launching in 1995, eBay has grown rapidly to become one of the most visited Internet sites, with 1.8 million unique visitors per day, which translates into good exposure for listed products (Weill & Vitale, 2001, p. 154). By the first quarter of 2000, annualized gross merchandise sales were about US$4.6 billion and 4 million items were listed for sale in 4,300 categories (Kanter, 2001, pp. 20-21).

On e-Bay, following completion of a transaction, each party is encouraged to add compliments or criticisms to the trading profile of his or her trading partner on eBay's "Feedback Forum". eBay's Feedback Forum and other services such as chat rooms, bulletin boards and e-mail are designed to foster direct interaction between buyers and sellers with similar interests, thus promoting a sense of community among customers and encouraging consumer loyalty and repeat usage. These benefits also facilitate surveillance and have contributed to the successful completion of well over 50 percent of all auctions listed on eBay since the site"s inception (Weill & Vitale, 2001, p. 155).

Users are involved in other ways as well, such as when the company makes adjustments, updates and changes to its Website, it solicits comments and suggestions. During its first two years, eBay hired respected users for customer support; these users responded to e-mails and answered questions posted on bulletin boards. As eBay grew, special interest groups emerged, and personal relationships developed offline. There have even been reports of eBay users holding picnics, taking trips, working together and assisting each other in the real world (Kanter, 2001, pp. 21-25). Thus, the eBay Website is a good reference for building community, which is another strategy for overcoming lack of awareness and trust.

Several of the surveyed Websites had statements guaranteeing authenticity of products and promising certificates of authenticity with purchased products. Such statements and certificates should be offered, especially in the absence of a broad formal certification system to increase consumer confidence. A certificate of authenticity is an assurance signed by the producer that a product was made by him/her.

One constant among most of the surveyed Websites was lack of shipping information. It would seem to be most effective to streamline online transactions, such that comprehensive shipping information can be easily accessed by the customer, rather than separately sending a quote for shipping costs. In economics, anything that lowers the search costs for consumers makes it more likely they will complete their transactions (Anderson, 2006, p. 56). In addition, in almost every case, weights were not provided next to the products. Thus, it is difficult for customers to estimate how heavy their shipment may be, causing uncertainty in the cost of shipment. In addition, if purchasing lightweight products, customers should be encouraged to buy multiple items, as shipping costs apply to the total weight of the order.

Among surveyed Websites, delivery time was up to 28 days and in many cases was unavailable. Thus, longer delivery times seem to be acceptable in the international marketplace. However, to increase consumer confidence in online purchasing it is necessary to provide accurate delivery charges and delivery schedule (Razi, Tarn & Siddiqui, 2004).



There are a number of strategies that cultural product retailers can use to overcome lack of awareness of the culture from which its products are created and their Websites and consumer confidence issues.

Cultural product retailers should design their Websites to provide good visual and informative content, such as clear product descriptions and interesting cultural and artisan information. In addition, interaction with customers should be encouraged to build a sense of community, to make the best use of resources and to further build credibility and trust.

Clear and accurate delivery times, product sizes, product weights, shipping information and shipping costs should be provided to help consumers make an informed decision. Purchases of multiple products at a time should be encouraged to diffuse the shipping cost over several items.

Guarantees need to be provided in terms of product quality and authenticity. To ensure security of payment information, cultural product retailers can set up accounts on internationally recognized payment gateways, as these gateways are perceived as highly secure for both merchants and consumers.

It is interesting to note that cultural product retailers do not need to participate in competitive pricing. There is room for them to increase their product prices and profit margins, and with this there may be more funds available for promotion.

In summary, with these above strategies, cultural product retailers can design e-commerce Websites to take advantage of the market potential for cultural products.

Future studies

This study focused on strategies of marketing cultural products online. However, it did not include a discussion of how to strike a balance between marketability and cultural preservation. This issue should be explored in future studies.

A small number of Websites were analyzed to determine global trends in the cultural products industry. Once more cultural product retailers have developed e-commerce Websites it would be interesting to look at a larger number of cases to determine if the results obtained in this study hold up.


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Table 1. Comparison of globally surveyed Websites: background information

Website No.*Year Website establishedMissionEvidence of physical presence? (i.e. bricks n' clicks model)
12005To provide great products; to provide value for money; to give customers a hassle-free shopping experience.Yes
21998Creating works in the "now" branching from traditional art forms.Yes
32002Proud to present a great collection of Native American Indian jewelry.Yes
4N/AProud to represent a wide range of artists, both those established in reputation and those with extremely promising futures.Yes
51996A personal home-based gallery specializing in locally made native American art.Yes
62000Proud to offer the finest American Indian art, collectibles and treasures from the "Heart of the Great Southwest". No
71997Features the largest online selection of African artifacts, African baskets, African textiles, African beadwork, trade beads and ethnic jewelry.No
8N/AHere you will find unusual and charming pieces of authentic, handmade American Indian art of the Southwest.Yes
91999Through exhibitions, performances, hands-on workshops with artists, and events, visitors will be immersed in the American West and Native America.Yes
102007Provides a range of Bidjwong Art that incorporates raw materials, age-old methods and classic contemporary designs for people serious about Australia's heritage and showing it off to the world.Yes


*A global survey of online cultural product retailers was conducted, from which 10 Websites were randomly selected to carry out in-depth analyses and comparisons of the practices and strategies of online cultural product retailers.

Table 2. Comparison of globally surveyed Websites: products and product information

Website No.*No. of products offered**Visual information (no. of photos per product)Product descriptionSizeWeight
1 51-1002-5N/AAvailableN/A
2<501Type of paper, print run, date of copyrightAvailableN/A
3201 and higher1-8Components; location where stones were minedAvailableAvailable for some products.
451-1001-2Colors, materialsAvailableN/A
5201 and higher2Components, properties AvailableN/A
6101-1502Colors, materialsAvailableN/A
7201 and higher2Condition, approximate age, materials, description author and credentialsAvailable N/A
8101-1504Components, condition of the piece, when it was added to the online catalogAvailable N/A
9201 and higher1Components, color, clothing sizesAvailableN/A
1051-1001Whether in stock or not; number in package; number in stock, number of days needed for back orderAvailableN/A


*A global survey of online cultural product retailers was conducted, from which 10 Websites were randomly selected to carry out in-depth analyses and comparisons of the practices and strategies of online cultural product retailers.

**Number of products was divided into the following categories: <50 (inclusive); 51-100; 101-150; 151-200 and 201 and higher.

Table 3. Comparison of globally surveyed Websites: cultural and artisan information

Website No.*Cultural background to productArtisan backgroundOther types of cultural information available?
3For some productsYesNo
5YesYesInformation and photos about traveling through Navajo and Zuni reservations; explanations of some Native American symbols
7YesNoIntroduction to the peoples of Africa
9YesYesYes, through link to Website of associated museum


*A global survey of online cultural product retailers was conducted, from which 10 Websites were randomly selected to carry out in-depth analyses and comparisons of the practices and strategies of online cultural product retailers.

Table 4. Comparison of globally surveyed Websites: craft media and types of crafts

Website No.*Types of crafts**Craft media***
1Items to decorate the home AccessoriesWood; Fabric; Ceramic/pottery
2Items to decorate the homeOther: limited edition prints
3Items to decorate the home Accessories Other: musical instrumentsWood; Leather; Other: silver, semi-precious stones
4Items to decorate the home AccessoriesCeramic/pottery; Leather; Other: animal bones, stone, silver
5Items to decorate the home AccessoriesWood; Ceramic/pottery; Leather; Other: stone, beadwork
6Items to decorate the home AccessoriesWood; Ceramic/pottery; Leather Canvas (painting); Other: silver, beads, wicker, semi-precious stones
7Items to decorate the home Accessories Other: weaponsWood; Fabric; Ceramic/pottery; Other: metal, stone, beads
8Items to decorate the home Clothing AccessoriesWood; Ceramic/pottery; Other: stone
9Items to use in the home Items to decorate the home Clothing AccessoriesWood; Fabric; Ceramic/pottery; Leather; Canvas (painting); Other: stone, bronze
10Items to use in the home Items to decorate the home AccessoriesWood; Ceramic/pottery; Canvas (painting); Other: pewter, hand-painted rocks


*A global survey of online cultural product retailers was conducted, from which 10 Websites were randomly selected to carry out in-depth analyses and comparisons of the practices and strategies of online cultural product retailers.

**Types of crafts include the following: items to use in the home; items to decorate the home; clothing; accessories, other. ***Craft media include wood, fabric, ceramic/pottery, leather, canvas (painting), other.

Table 5. Comparison of globally surveyed Websites: transaction fulfillment

Website No.*Product price rangeAccepts intl orders?Payment methods **Delivery timeShipping methodsShipping price
1L$15 to L$550 (US$30.93- US$1,134)YesCC, debit cards, CH, MO48 hours; intl 28 daysParcel Force or Royal MailFree UK mainland; Intl e-mail to sales department
2US$35 to US$210YesCC, CH, MON/AN/ADomestic shipping inc.; add $5 for intl
3US$16.95 to US$6,550YesCCN/AUPS, UPS WorldwideExample 7 lb. order US$8 to US$88.
4US$6 to US$700YesCC, CH, MON/AUS Postal Service, UPS, Federal ExpressN/A
5US$18 to US$600YesPY, CC, Google checkout, CHN/AUS Postal Service N/A
6US$19 to US$1,850N/APY, CC, CH, MON/AN/AFree shipping
7US$9.75 to US$5,500NoPY, CCN/AN/AN/A
8US$16.50 to US$349N/APY, CCN/AN/AN/A
9US$2.99 to US$2,500YesCC, CH7 business days (US)Customer option, Fed Ex, US airmail. N/A
10A$4.95 to A$3,850 (US$4.57 to US$3,555)YesN/AListed with each productN/AN/A


*A global survey of online cultural product retailers was conducted, from which 10 Websites were randomly selected to carry out in-depth analyses and comparisons of the practices and strategies of online cultural product retailers.

**CC: major credit cards; CH: check; MO: money order; PY: Paypal.

Table 6. Comparison of globally surveyed Websites: marketing methods—digital technologies and other marketing strategies

Website No.*E-newsletterBlogSell on auction site (e.g. eBay)PodcastVlog/ YouTubeOther marketing strategies
1NoNoNoNoNoRegister to preview new collection. E-mail product Web page to a friend. View recommended products.
2NoNoNoNoNoLimited edition items are signed and numbered
3NoNoNoNoNoExclusive art series. Limited edition items are numbered.
4YesNoNoNoNoGift orders shipped with invoice that does not indicate price. Logo of membership in Indian Arts and Crafts Association.
5NoNoNoNoNoGift certificates. E-mail product Webpage to a friend.
6NoNoNoNoNoStatement that art comes directly from the artist, pueblo or reservation.
7NoNoYesNoNoRecommended reading.
8NoNoYesNoNoGift vouchers. Authenticity guaranteed is stated in all product descriptions. Some products come with certificate of authenticity.
9YesNoNoNoNoE-mail product Webpage to a friend. Exclusive products.
10NoNoNoNoNoExclusive products.


*A global survey of online cultural product retailers was conducted, from which 10 Websites were randomly selected to carry out in-depth analyses and comparisons of the practices and strategies of online cultural product retailers.