E-Commerce - the essentials

Posted on 16 Jun 2016
Reader Question:

Doctor Digital, I want to start to sell through my website, what should I be considering when getting my new system together?

Doctor Digital Says:

E-commerce used to be an expensive and complex game, with lots of additional hardware and software that plugged in to your existing cash flow systems, often with less than awesome results. Happily in 2016, the field is awash with simple, elegant solutions that can transform your business capabilities by increasing sales, enabling access to your store for customers around the clock and offering your brand and services to an international market that never sleeps. The small business applications available today are agile, scalable, cheaper, more intuitive and designed not as a clunky add on, but as a seamless integration in existing systems.

With worldwide business to consumer e-commerce hitting 2 trillion dollars at the end of 2015, e-commerce is a critical tool for all small businesses. With big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) in early stages of productisation, many of these systems not only process payment, but also gather demographic information about your customers allowing a tightly nuanced view of behaviour. E-commerce is convenient for your business - but more importantly for your customers. Remember how tough life was when you had to key in your pin before PayWave came along? Tiny shifts in enhancing human behavior have a big impact on the ease of transactions which in turn reduces barriers to purchasing.

If your business is enabled to make things as simple and as easy as possible for customers on every platform you operate in, including bricks and mortar, revenue will flow. In fact convenience will trump many other things when in comes to online transactions, with ease overtaking price and product when it comes to actually converting the sale. The fewer clicks between your customer and their payment the better. In the online environment your business can be as competitive as any of the big name brands, if fact often more so. If you have strategically sorted your SEO, your website and your social media and are utilising the power of all three, you may well be ahead of the game from less nimble bigger operators who are relying on name alone to convert customers.

If it’s time for you to get serious about implementing an e-commerce solution for your business, you need to understand first of all what your business needs. You might start by asking you (and your business) some questions to begin to narrow down the functionality required. Consider the following for what your business does:

  • What type of products are you selling?
  • How many products will you have online?
  • Do you need product variations like sizes and colours?
  • Where will you sell to? Australia-wide, international, local only?
  • Does your business have intense seasonal peaks in transactions?
  • How will you collect payment? Paypal or through your bank’s merchant facility?
  • How will you calculate shipping cost?
  • Do you want to package products, cross sell and up-sell or are you download and subscription based?
  • Is the store part of your online presence or is it your entire online presence?
  • What are your growth and scaling plans for the business in what timeframe?

To make e-commerce work for your business, you also have to think about the capacity that exists within in the business and who will be managing the system on the day to day. You need to make sure you purchase a system that aligns with the levels of skill available. If you are looking for a fully integrated solution, consider functionality and features in these areas:

  • Search engine optimisation
  • Social media integration
  • Blogs
  • Responsive, mobile-friendly design
  • Email newsletter integration
  • Accounting software integration

Ultimately, the decision will often come down to price vs ROI, however, what you can afford to spend to buy and run e-commerce within your business needs to be considered against what it will cost you in sales to not have a customer friendly system. Other considerations to build into the actual cost to your business are things like technical skills. Can you deploy and run the system with your existing staff? Will you therefore need to outsource any aspect of the project roll out and ongoing use. If so, account for that in your platform choice and the total cost of ownership. And when you compare the pricing arrangements of each option you consider, note the subscription periods, levels of service provided at each and always check for any cancellation fees or hidden costs that might be a nasty surprise.

Technology has brought a lot of benefits, but has also given business a reliance on 24/7 availability. If all you have to process payments is e-commerce, system downtime is a nightmare for small business, and you need to be confident that if and when problems arise, there is someone there to help you get back up and running as swiftly as possible. It’s important to look into the levels of support each vendor offers to determine the best fit for your business. Also consider the modes of support offered – phone or live chat, email only, support forums, webinars or forums. Choose the format that you feel most comfortable with the best suits you, your staff and business model.

E- Commerce is an epically big topic, so we went ahead and got the Doctor to make us a complex factsheet with all the bits you need to know about choosing the technology. Click here to check it out!