Measuring the best net gains

THE Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Internet Award is a brand new category for 2007, sponsored by Archant Herts and Cambs, parent company of this newspaper. Judges have been on the lookout for innovation and creativity, including the way the site is managed, r

THE Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Internet Award is a brand new category for 2007, sponsored by Archant Herts and Cambs, parent company of this newspaper.

Judges have been on the lookout for innovation and creativity, including the way the site is managed, run and developed. They will be assessing whether the site was created internally or externally and, if externally, how individual it is and how well the two companies collaborated in its development.

Staff training and understanding, user-friendliness and cost-effectiveness are key criteria, and the impact on the business is crucial.

Short-listed for this first award are two former award winners and a family-run bird feed company from Brampton.

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The £6million-a-year Huntingdon Marriott Hotel has already won an award within the international group for its web innovation and uses a global platform to host the site as a "virtual hotel lobby". The hotel was also last year's Huntingdonshire Employer of the Year.

The site has been designed to promote the area as well as the hotel. There are more than 65 links on the site to Huntingdonshire businesses and local attractions and nearly 80 businesses in the area are also listed there. It has been designed to lure visitors to the area at the same time as boosting hotel bookings. The home page is refreshed every two months - for example, St Ives was featured in August to help promote the waterways festival.

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Development, optimisation and maintenance of the hotel website are in the care of the hotel's enthusiastic market researcher Christopher Robinson.

The hotel has been recognised as having the best Marriott Hotel website in the UK, Ireland, Africa, Middle East, Europe, Asia, Oceania and South America, and was awarded the hotel website of the year award.

Winner of The Spirit of Ingenuity Award in 2002, Le Mark Group from St Ives, is short-listed for its inquiry management system (IMS), which gives staff access to live internet inquiries as they happen.

Le Mark is an international exporter, distributor and retailer of innovative self-adhesive tapes, custom printed tapes and labels, dance and stage flooring and accessory products, with 19 employees and annual sales of £1.8million. Its managing director, Stuart Gibbons, is chairman of Huntingdonshire Chamber of Commerce.

The IMS system enables clients quickly to provide all the information Le Mark needs for a fast, accurate quotation.

"The site offers customers access to downloadable PDFs, product galleries, demonstration videos, quotation forms and much more, so staff needed to know exactly how things worked and where they were," said marketing manager Mark Gibbons. "We went about training our staff by using individual training sessions and monitored secret caller/inquires.

"A site that is not user friendly is worthless, which is why we put so much effort into designing it to be very easy to use, navigate and submit inquires. We used simple, visible, product category 'image menus' rather than the traditional minefield of a text menu.

"The customer is there to view your products and company details so that's exactly what we put into our design. Our scrolling 'staff images' also allow customers actually to see who we are and, we hope, who they're going to be dealing with."

David's Wild Bird Feeds is a family business supplying high-quality bird food and wildlife products to the public from the website and catalogue on a next day delivery service. It is based at The Forge in Brampton's High Street. has taken a year's development in close partnership with Fink Design, a local company.

The site's design exploits the robin, Britain's favourite bird, a cottage for its warm, homely appeal, and the partially-scripted "David's" for informality.

" has been designed so that our customers find it easy to navigate. Prior to launch the site was tested by family and friends both in the UK and abroad with some valuable feedback," said David Collett, the company's owner. "The home page lists the main departments down the left hand column together with an excellent search facility.

"The initial design costs of £3,000 will be recouped over three years by attracting more repeat internet customers. This is on track by past catalogue customers choosing to use our website order rather than ordering by telephone. This automated process has proved cost effective by reducing staff time when processing orders.

"Since the launch of our new internet site supported by our catalogue, sales have increased by 120 per cent to £4,500 in June. This has supported the shop where sales have levelled off. The higher volumes of mail order, means we are now a preferred customer of Businesspost, which improved our carriage rate," he added.

"Sales have allowed us to diversify our range into kites, garden toys, gifts and jigsaws. Our website has helped our business to reach new markets, even France and South Africa".

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