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Becoming a serious online merchant

March 14, 2007

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In today's highly competitive eCommerce segment, it's becoming increasinly important to take the necessary time in evaluating and strategically planning all of what it takes to successfully build and professionally integrate a secure online merchant Web site.

Overall, there are many different options to selct from that can easily scare any business person from knowing exactly what to do to bring eCommerce goals to life and in a very simplistic manner. As a rule of thumb, online commerce isn't always simple, but it can be, if only you follow some basic steps.

A business person can easily spend a lot of time, money and various resources putting together all the various and many elements that it takes, all to end up with almost nothing to show for it! This has happened more than once so far. Do you remember the 1999-2000 era?

There are many retailers and eCommerce sellers that are now recognizing the important need to accurately assess whether their online platform can continue to support growing business needs, along with customers' specific individual needs.

Merely offering some products on the Internet and expecting new customers to find them isn't enough to remain competitive in today's new eCommerce universe.

Overall customer loyalty and an enjoyable shopping experience are essential for growing the market share of existing and potential online buyers. With your biggest competitors just a click away, you have hopefully begun to recognize a variety of the many factors driving advances in online commerce.

Some of these factors include making it easy for online shoppers to easily find you, targeting and personalizing offers and campaigns to customer segments and individuals. Add to that the need to create more dynamic and user-friendly Web sites that quickly respond to changing customer expectations.

But if you're weighing the cost of new investments against their revenue-generating potential, you need to make sure you're getting the most out of your investment. In short, you need to be certain that you're breathing new life into your online store with the full range of capabilities that the best e-Commerce platforms can offer today.

eCommerce site usability and functionality would seems straightforward and commoditized, to some anyway. As a practical example, most of the good e-com sites have product catalogs and offer different ways to search for desired items.

The better ones incorporate the use of shopping carts. They frequently offer special promotions such as free shipping and they MUST offer secure transactions on a secure 128-bit SSL connection.

However, successfully converting from an online merchant to a great one does necessitate changes.

The common features reveal only the top layer of how important the technology behind a successful Internet store really is. Whether moving from a homegrown model or to an outsourced platform that has reached its limit, eCommerce managers, merchandisers and IT personnel alike can confront some major obstacles in advancing to the next class of online functionality.

The following is a quick guide of important considerations for moving to a more robust e-com platform, and evaluating whether you are ready to do so in the first place.

When evaluating the many vendors and their many different eCommerce platforms available today, take a close look at the overriding goals behind the features and functionality trumpeted.

You want to hear that using X vendor's software will significantly your sales, but how will they accomplish that? Don't be afraid to ask many questions. Ask for referrals and validate them by contacting them, preferably by phone.

Today's strongest and best e-Commerce platforms will deliver a seamless, personalized experience to end-users, and enable online merchandisers to maintain total control over their Web site and brand.

In 2007, knowledgeable online customers expect sophisticated experiences on the Internet, but true personalization isn't about emblazoning the consumer's name at the top of every page on the site! It instead highlights and leverages the answer to two crucial questions and blends them together in a way that makes sense: What is your customer looking for and what is it do you wish to sell them?

The answer is in helping online shoppers find what they're looking for quickly and easily, while at the same time promote specific products or offers that are very relevant to them. That way, you earn their loyalty and give them a reason to keep coming back for more.

There's a good reason that some online merchants are continually cited by analysts, existing retailers and other partners as the best the industry has to offer. Take these points into consideration and examine which eCommerce applications are best suited to address your specific business needs.

A good e-commerce site is only as good as its ability to handle its highest traffic. As your site popularity increases, it needs to scale with minimal effort so don't settle for a platform that can't handle large or complex product catalogs in peak traffic hours of the day or night.

Make certain the platform will deliver all the agility needed to quickly adjust offers and promotions for everything from A-B testing, consumer feedback or even relevant and unexpected current events.

Consider the many advantages of implementing an online application with features and capabilities that complement each other and that can offer more control over the entire life cycle of your site.

You don't want to spend the time, resources or money investing into a mess of applications to save a bit of money. Moving to a new platform shouldn't involve cobbling together a plethora of different pieces from different vendors, and it shouldn't have to be done every year either!

Look at application components that make up an eCommerce system as a stand-alone application. This includes everything from a strong and flexible eCommerce engine and catalog search capabilities to CMS (content management software). Also seriously consider the management of outbound email campaigns.

Other areas where you need to focus your attention to is site analytics and even service and support measures for helping customers complete sales.

An integrated suite makes the most economic and functional business sense.

To conclude, make certain that the vendor (s) you are contemplating don't subscribe to a one-size-fits-all philosophy. Take a serious look at whether or not the platform in question can back up ALL their claims.

Does the eCommerce suite you're considering fit with what you're looking for? If time-to-market is a major concern, maybe an on-demand or SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) platform can help eliminate some of the typical IT hassles incorrectly associated with having a world class eCommerce presence.

If you need complete control to integrate and implement your software fully in-house, then a licensed or on-premise platform could be the right solution. In the end, the e-commerce platform you choose should do the work for you, so that you can focus your energy and time on selling the right products, running the right promotions and maintaining your brand while retaining and growing your customer base.

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Source: IT World Canada

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