Published on 25 June 2012
Unfortunately, a dotcom bust intervened and e-commerce grew in fits and starts. However, the online retailing model seems to have come into its own recently.
According to research by Forrester, e-commerce will account for nine percent of overall retail sales by 2016. That, incidentally, is a growth of over two percent from 2011 figures.
For small businesses, e-commerce is a win-win solution because it eliminates expensive warehousing costs, streamlines inventory management, and enables stores to connect directly with customers.
These benefits, however, are dependent on the choice of a good e-commerce solution. Most small businesses often confuse a simple website with e-commerce.
E-commerce is much more.
It is your online presence, a possible commercial transaction, and a direct connection to your customer rolled into one. To help you decide, we have shortlisted four simple questions to ask yourself before investing in an e-commerce solution.
Social media offers small businesses powerful, simple and accessible tools to engage, inform and proselytize customers. Whether it is Facebook's storefront feature or Twitter's promoted tweets to establish brands, the network effects of social media to advertise and promote your store or products are enormous and awesome. What's more, social media also offers direct channels to connect with your customers.
A word of caution, however, for small businesses here. Don't look for instant monetary returns through social media. E-commerce is a complicated alliance of tangible (customer engagement and instant feedback) and intangible (it is difficult to quantify monetary returns on social media) returns.
In other words, check whether the solution integrates with existing e-commerce platforms such as Ebay and Magento. Whilst the returns from social media cannot be quantified right now, e-commerce platforms offer magnificent returns for small businesses.
Existing e-commerce platforms shorten your legwork and investments to market products. They connect you to large audiences and enable direct competition in the online marketplace. In fact, you can think about the experience as advertising your products and services along side other storefronts in a large mall (in this case, the e-commerce platform). Several solutions such as NetSuite or BrightPearl, which recently enhanced its offerings to include integrations capability, are a good fit for such features.
The equivalent of an online customer experience is good website design. This includes several important design factors such as the number of clicks a customer must make to purchase a product, ease to find products, and visual elements to help customers navigate through your online store. In addition, make sure that the e-commerce solution has the elements to reflect your brand values. For the less technically-inclined, intuitive and easy-to-use solutions, such as Shopify, work best.
However, small businesses that are interested in defining a specific look and feel for their store should go in for more technical solutions such as Vendorama that enable you to build your store from the bottom-up and include several options for customizing your store options.
In other words, the e-commerce solution should enable sharing and transfer of information from your website to back-office databases and knowledge management tools. For example, customer payments made through your website must sync with your accounting application at the back end. Similarly, customer records, such as address and phone number, on the front-end must be available to your back-end customer relationship management solution for analysis.
Eventually, the choice of an e-commerce solution is an important and complicated one. It is determined by your needs and budget. However, you can make simplify the decision by using the questions outlined above.
You can save time by checking a custom-fit e-commerce solutions for small businesses.