A new problem facing etailers today is giving the store away with free offers, like free shipping, to lure consumers.

It is the age-old problem of retailing as etailers question “are free offers the beginning of selling our way out of business?”

In 2010, according to Forrester, e-commerce will likely account for 7% of all U.S. shopping, excluding auto, travel, and prescription drugs and is trending to be as high as 20% in the next few years.

So before etailers just provide free offer after free offer, let’s examine two key questions that etailers must ask to translate this deep web loyalty into a consumer’s loyalty to their brand.  And, I am referring to loyalty in the form of upfront payment for shopping privileges.

Question 1.  Do you eavesdrop on your customers?

I like to say, “Customers are talking behind your back right before your eyes.”

Obviously with today’s social media forums, on-line chat rooms and more – you can see what the customer is saying behind your back.

While it is very important to provide excellent merchandise ordering services it is even more important to provide extraordinary service to a dissatisfied customer.  Why? Because, dissatisfied customers will quickly abandon your company and are the ones that will most likely post negative reviews.

Don’t be penny wise and pound-foolish.  Spend the time and money to engage in social media.  Read the forums and go into the chat rooms to see what people think of your product and service.   Then take action.  Capture the conversations, look at frequently asked questions and make modifications to your business model when you spot trends.  If you see a frequently asked question, add it to the list.

Then go a step further.  Ask customers to opt into short online surveys to find out what they want beyond a low price. Find the ways to get them to describe the experience they are willing to pay for – and pay for up front.  Your most vocal customers both positive and negative can be a roadmap to the features of the loyalty program your customers want.

So, before you offer an incentive get the facts.  Then armed with information, put the right merchandising strategy into place right before your customers’ eyes.

Question 2.  Are we creating online end-cap displays?

How many people have walked into a store to see an end-cap display showing a trendy outfit, furniture in a room, or maybe even an all-inclusive vacation package   and have said, “Wrap that up, I want it”?  The answer is millions.

But how can we translate it to the web and create what I call the “online end-cap display”?

A starting point may be advertising loss leaders, but it is only that: a starting point.  An item at a significantly lower price does not necessarily engage the consumer.  The key is solid upsell marketing.

For instance, you might discount a scarf by 50% but make sure the full-priced matching gloves and hat are displayed alongside it.  Have a goal of converting the consumer who purchases the loss leader to check out with two or more additional items.

Plus, choose your loss leaders carefully.  Pick an item that is a great deal for the consumer, but an incredible value if paired with something else.

With the “online end cap display” you don’t just sell customers an item; you sell them a great customer experience.

Remember, value is not just delivering a discounted price; it is also about providing convenience and offering products and services that are highly appealing to consumers.

These are the first steps to finding out what enhanced services customers are willing to pay for before you give too much away.