03 November 2010


So what does e-commerce mean anyway? E-commerce is the pre-eminent buzzword of the online business revolution. It captures the excitement and focus of this fast emerging market. But it is more than a slogan or glib party line. At its core it embodies a concept for doing business online.

The concept of e-commerce is all about using the Internet to do business better and faster. It is about giving customers controlled access to your computer systems and letting people serve themselves. It is about committing your company to a serious online effort and integrating your Web site with the heart of your business. If you do that, you will see results!

The Internet's role in business can be compared to that of the telephone. It is a way for people to communicate with each other. It is also a way for a consumer to communicate with a company's computer systems without human intervention. In fact, the Internet is a communication medium like the many others we use in business every day.

Think of the ways you communicate with people in business. The best way is face to face. Body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions all help you understand what the other person is trying to say. When you cannot meet face to face, you may use any of a number of different means to communicate: a telephone, a fax machine, Federal Express, the U.S. Postal Service, or maybe even a messenger service. These are all ways to deliver or receive information, authorization, even shipments of goods and merchandise.

The Internet is a reasonable alternative to all of those means of communication. Any place and any way that your business communicates with its customers, you should think about how you could have done it online. That is the power of e-commerce.

Can't meet face to face? Send an e-mail with an attached photograph. When it comes time to pay for merchandise, use a secured server to pay by credit card, or even digital cash! The opportunities and situations in which online business is possible are limitless.

Components of an Internet Business
Every era of business yields new strategies and new ways of doing business. With the advent of radio and television came the first mass-market advertising. Now, the Internet has so radically changed business that the rules for corporate strategy that held for the last 50 years (since the dawn of television) have begun to crumble.

There are some literal elements of commerce that are necessary for any transactions to take place, which are as true for regular bricks-and-mortar commerce as they are for e-commerce. First, whether you are doing business online or in the real world, you have to have a product to sell or a service to offer. Then, you must have a place from which to do business. In the traditional world of commerce this can be a physical store or, in a more figurative sense, a catalog or phone number. In the world of e-commerce the place from which you do business is your Web site.

Most businesses already exist in the bricks-and-mortar world of commerce. Adding a Web site is a means to enhance their business. For Internet startups, the Web site is the only place that they do business.

In both regular commerce and e-commerce you need to find a way to attract customers to your place of business. This is embodied by your marketing strategy, and everything from advertising to word of mouth fits into this category.

In order to do business, you also need a way to take orders and process payment. In a retail store there are no orders. Customers simply find the products they want, get in a line at the register, and pay the cashier. In e-commerce, orders have to be placed and items shipped. Orders are usually handled through interactive, online forms. Money is another issue easily handled in traditional commerce. Customers in a retail store pay by check, cash, or credit or debit cards. Online customers cannot pay by cash or check, only through electronic means. Also, there are issues of security that surround online payment that do not come into play in the traditional bricks-and-mortar world. E-commerce transactions have to take place through secure electronic connections and special merchant accounts for accepting payment.

Once payment is collected, delivery of the product must take place. Fulfillment in traditional stores is as easy as putting the item in a bag and handing it over to the customer. Fulfillment in the world of e-commerce is more difficult, requiring shipping and transportation similar to catalog and mail order businesses. For businesses that integrate e-commerce into their existing business plan, fulfillment is as easy as hiring an extra employee to ship online orders. In Internet startup businesses, fulfillment must often be outsourced to a facility that can handle order processing and shipping in a more timely and professional manner.

Adding E-commerce encompasses so much more than a variety of templates and colors that attempt to match the look and feel of your current website. A few text rollover effects, animated graphics, brief descriptions, thumbnails and photos of the products really only provide you with an online catalogue.

Such issues as user interfaces, marketing, branding, merchandising, navigation systems, website architecture and data flow is of prime consideration in establishing a successful Internet presence. It also encompasses intangible elements, such as how the human brain breaks up information, eye hand co-ordination and just plain old human nature.

Successful websites make clear to the shopper which categories of products are available, and provide easy site-navigation links. From anywhere in these sites, the shopper can easily proceed to browse more products without having to waste time searching. It would seem fairly obvious that a good navigation system is required for a successful e-commerce site, but as you may have noticed, many sites on the Internet are sorely lacking in this regard.

Many companies are also spending significant amounts of money to launch E-businesses on the Internet. But how many of these companies are taking the right approach when it comes to building a memorable, positive brand image that online consumers will be attracted to in the long term?

A key issue is that branding in the online world is far more than just transferring your print brand identity to the Web. Yes, it includes a graphic design image, but your brand in the world of e-business is more largely affected by the interactive experience you provide your users. The Web is a medium that allows you to quickly build one-to-one relationships with your customers.

What is even more important is the quality of those relationships. Your Web site's ability to engage your customers and facilitate an ongoing relationship with them is the real key to successful branding on the Internet.

Selling off-line is very much built on personal relationships developed over time. Many sales manuals describe the average five to eight customer contacts necessary to complete a sale. These can involve telephone, e-mail and even salespeople visiting a customer's place of business, etc.

With the Internet your website has to encapsulate your entire approach. When visitors arrive at your website your online store must entice these potential shoppers to make a purchase. Yet, with one click your potential shopper can be gone, never to return.

Why? The list is long but not insurmountable. A well thought E-commerce website designed by knowledgeable business experts need not be too expensive for most small and medium sized companies. The emphasis being on well thought out and business experts. The majority of Wizard based, templates driven do-it-yourself style e-commerce systems, for a multitude of reasons are simply not effective with today's sophisticated on-line shoppers. Some may enable you to make sales but certainly do not allow you to operate at full potential.

Certain issues in establishing an E-commerce presence do not even concern the look and feel of the site. Admittedly graphics do not have to be overly large in file size or too flashy. A quick loading site is a must as the vast majority of consumers connect to the Internet from their homes with relatively slow modems. A slow loading online store crammed with overly long content or graphics typically ends your relationship before it has begun.

Also when purchasing online, shoppers are often required to provide an entire host of personal information, including a mailing address, phone number, e-mail addresses and billing information. In general, requiring these disclosures can discourage certain shoppers from purchasing directly online. The addition of a toll free line in itself can make an important difference.

As well, in order to alleviate shoppers' privacy concerns an E-commerce site should provide guarantees that shoppers' personal information will not be sold to other companies for mailing lists and other solicitation purposes. Maintaining consumer confidence is essential for your online store.

A major concern of online shoppers is that of poor customer support. They question the merchant's response to issues that may arise after the purchase has been made. The concern is whether the online merchant has the expertise or personnel required in resolving technical issues relating to the setup or use of the product. Posting a page outlining your technical support policies and a F.A.Q section is a step towards addressing these legitimate shopper concerns.

Another factor affecting consumer confidence is a concern that they will be dissatisfied with the product purchased without the benefit of examining the product physically before purchase. It may be necessary to implement and post an unconditional exchange or refund policy to boost consumer confidence.

These are but a few of the many issues involved in establishing and operating a successful E-commerce website before the graphical and navigation issues are even addressed. Yet they are identical issues faced in operating an offline or 'Bricks & Mortar' business, yet with slightly different methods of resolution.

Realizing that your E-commerce website must be seamlessly integrated into your business, reflecting your company image, reinforcing your brand and providing a smooth and intuitive flow of data, will you choose Wizardry or Knowledge in its construction?

Related Story

No comments:

Post a Comment