I have found ecommerce businesses choosing their technology primarily based on aesthetics and secondarily on functionality. The business aspects of ecommerce technology are often overlooked. In reality, the business aspects of technology are usually the ones that separate winners from losers.
The Business Imperatives
There is an entire universe of business functions that your technology controls. So that I do not end up authoring the definitive ecommerce encyclopedia, let us focus the present discussion to three of the most important decisions to be made regarding technology for your e-commerce business: Shopping Cart, Methods of Payment, and Organization of Transactions.
The All Important Shopping Cart
There are many shopping cart options. But not all are created equal. There are some key points to consider when choosing a shopping cart for your ecommerce website. The easiest to evaluate is the appearance.
- Images and Descriptions
The shopping cart should present the images tastefully. As I mentioned in the article on visual marketing, shoppers shop by sight, first and foremost. Next, it must be feature rich in product descriptions. In other words, you should not be limited to making only descriptions that fit selling a piece of software when you are selling bikes. Flexibility is key in descriptions.
- Data Entry
Next, you should consider the ease with which you can enter data. If your catalog is larger than a few hundred items, you will eventually get irritated at data entry and maintenance. A good shopping cart should be able to import from a .csv file or a database.
- Taxes and Shipping
An overlooked area of many shopping cart solutions is the computation of shipping and taxes. The shopping cart software should be able to compute taxes based on the location of the customer. Likewise shipping should have international shipping options too. These should preferably tie directly in with the carrier's sites for real-time shipping charges. Taxes should not be limited to a single territory, and should reflect accurate and up-to-date information.
- Discounts, Rebates, Coupons, Group Buying…
Discounts, rebates, and pricing structure flexibility can empower your sales if instituted according to sound business principles. Most shopping carts offer some version of price flexibility. But complete control over these features is important for creating a rich ecommerce experience.
The Payment Gateway
The general principle here is that your software should not limit the modes of payment. Which modes of payment you accept should be your business decision and not one imposed upon you by the payment gateway.
Some of the common modes of payment are:
- Cash on Delivery
- Credit Card
- Debit Card
- Online Stored Value Accounts, e.g., PayPal
Organization of Transactions -- the Heartbeat of Ecommerce
You need to expend some resources organizing, in order to build and maintain a thriving ecommerce business. Your organization does not have to be intricate, but simply adequate.
You need to track your customer information, all sales and returns, your wholesalers, your own purchases from wholesalers, wages, and taxes. These are the absolute minimum areas of organization. You might also have an affiliate program that you need to keep organized.
In the case of tiny ecommerce businesses, a simple spreadsheet will do the trick. However, if you plan on growing, this becomes an absurd way to organize your business. You should consider a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution early on for managing customer data.
Your CRM system should be intuitive, and provide quick and complete access to the information you seek. The more difficult it is to access the appropriate information on customers, the longer they have to wait for your interaction, and the less accurate your responses will be. And that is no way to engage the customer.
Like it or not, ecommerce is a technology business. With the passage of time, technology is turning into a commodity. But until it truly does, you need to ensure that you are using the right technology.