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E-Commerce: integrate or perish

05 Sep 11

Customers in 2011 expect to be provided with consistent information no matter how they may deal with a business. Pricing, order status, inventory availability, account status, product information, payment options and shipping options are expected to be the same across all channels. The only way to ensure this is to have an eCommerce system properly integrated with a back office system.

Integration in this context is not the ability to import and export data via a CSV file, but rather an eCommerce system that understands the business logic of the back office system. In other words, an eCommerce system that is aware, on a continual basis, of what is happening in the back office and can present relevant information on the internet for customers in a secure, real-time and reliable manner.

With the millions of websites live today there is ample opportunity to research a very wide range of technologies as well as features and functions that can be taken advantage of. The down side to so many choices is that it is easy to get bogged down in trying to cram every possible feature in to a new website.

All too often, in trying to include every possible feature, projects get out of control, and the primary drivers – those features with the highest return on investment – get lost in the shuffle. In some cases, projects with significant pay back get derailed because one small and potentially low-value feature cannot be implemented. Sometimes it’s okay to not try and automate everything on a web site. It is best to focus on what is of most value.

From experience, we know that no matter how much time and effort goes into figuring out how to make a site perfect, there will no doubt be users that will suggest changes to how a site flows and what information is available.

A better approach is to get the basic features in place quickly – those features with the highest potential payback – and to let customers use the site as early as possible. With their feedback, have a plan in place to add those features they request the most, or to make changes to how the site functions based on their input. Taking such an approach can help to minimise mistakes and effort being put in to functionality that may be of little value to users.

Cost vs ROI

Before launching into an eCommerce project the potential ROI should be determined up front, and preferably a very conservative approach should be taken when doing so. Once the benefits of the initiative are well understood, then a business can determine the best approach to achieve those benefits. Only when these steps are taken can a reasonable assessment of the budget required to implement the system be undertaken.

For almost any business an integrated eCommerce solution can lead to significant returns, regardless of what market the business serves.  These include:

1. Eliminating or significantly reducing time and effort to synchronise a web presence with the back office.

2. Significantly reducing order-processing costs by outsourcing data entry to customers.

3. Significantly reducing customer service costs by providing 24x7 self-service tools.

4. Potential to reduce credit card PCI Compliance costs by outsourcing credit card capture, processing and storage.

5. Reaching out to new customers across the country or across the globe by leveraging the reach of the internet.

6. Lowering the cost of sales by providing potential customers with easy to find and relevant product/service information.

There is very little doubt that a presence on the internet is of significant value to virtually every organisation today, regardless of size and markets served. However, when considering either a new website or re-building an existing site it is very important to keep in mind what the primary purposes of the website are – most often to create more sales leads, to sell more products to new and existing customers, to streamline the order process and to improve customer service. This requires sites that are ranked high on Google, provide informative product/service information, enable users to quickly and easily make purchases, have self-service tools that customers can use 24x7, and that are properly integrated with a back office system.

Charles Pludthura is marketing manager for Sage Business Solutions.

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