Establishing a personal connection with prospective and existing students is essential to Alaska Pacific University. That's why the private college employs some of the latest Internet technology to make its website more engaging lo visitors, who can explore through different entry points based on their areas of interest. They can quickly locate and view information from a programs, academics or admissions perspective.
Offering information in a more categorized fashion makes it more meaningful to users and allows them to connect with APU in their own unique way, according to Michael Baker, APU's director of information technology. "Each perspective student may interpret things a little differently," Bakers says. "We felt it was important to emphasize the needs of the consumer."
Visitors who are interested in enrolling can click on the "Apply Now" button that's conveniently placed throughout the site. From there, they simply select an area of interest,, such as Campus Undergraduate, Early Honors or Degree Completion and follow the instructions to submit their application. Applying online is free and a special "applicant portal" keeps prospective students in the loop throughout the entire process. "Instead of just having a stream of e-mails,, phone calls and visits, there is one communication portal that they can log into any time of the day to see the status of their application," Baker says. "This offers them an immediate visual of where they are. The system helps them along with what steps are necessary to complete their application."
APU's website also offers an online chat feature to enable people to contact admissions staff any time during the work day. As soon as the chat feature went live, it drew an incredible response. "We had five or six people chatting with our people per hour," Baker says. "It changed the way our admissions people work."
Baker says the Internet is changing the way APU does business. Younger consumers generally prefer to communicate online instead of pick up the phone. They have different expectations. "Because the demographic has changed, institutions that support that demographic are going to have to change or suffer," he says.
APU's website is a prime illustration of some of the latest ways Alaska organizations are leveraging e-commerce and Internet technology. Electronic commerce or e-commerce relates to buying goods and services online. But in a broader sense, it goes well beyond making purchases, according Joe Law of Sundog Media, which specializes in a variety of Web-related services.
Law says organizations are increasingly using their website to sell registrations, take donations and, in APU's case, complete applications for enrollment. "They're buying from your website without you spending your time to make the sale," he says. "It's always working for you even while you're sleeping."
However, an e-commerce site isn't ideal for every business, Law says. For example, a company with a high-end, high-touch product may be better off focusing on in-store sells instead of e-commerce. Also, he says, businesses should take a graduated approach to putting up an e-commerce store. "Don't try to place all your products online at first," he says. "Pick your best products and see how they work, before you spend time putting everything on your website.”
While Law deals mostly with nonprofits, he's seen a growing interest in e-commerce among businesses in general. He's also witnessed several other interesting trends. For instance, many businesses are opting for a la carte solutions instead of having Web programmers do expensive custom coding. Mai's e-commerce free shopping cart service is a chief example. The company makes it simple for merchants to include a shopping cart on their website. They can add buy-now buttons to their product pages and start accepting payments immediately.
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