eCommerce – A Strategy

The process of planning an ecommerce website is similar to that of building a house – the architecture and budget must be agreed upon prior to the decoration.

BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE IS DONE, AN AGREED REQUIREMENTS SPECIFICATION MUST BE DRAWN UP – ANY OTHER APPROACH WILL ONLY LEAD TO CONFUSION AND WORSE.

Once an AGREED REQUIREMENTS SPECIFICATION is agreed upon, the following solutions must be evaluated and costed in relation to the specification:

– Management of projects – Hardware
– Web design and software development
– Promotion of the site – Project management:

It is necessary to manage all aspects of the project. Decide who will do it and plan the requirements, activities, outcomes, milestones, and timelines thoroughly.

Hardware:

You have two options here: managed services or your own server. The security and disaster recovery features provided by hosting with a reputable provider are critical. Only if you have the experience and infrastructure to run your own server should you do so.

Design and software development:

Design of the website

Create site templates and validate them with real users. They must be simple to operate and navigate. Allow ease of use and sales to drive the site’s “design.” Consider the customer’s perspective.

Software

At least five alternatives must be considered.

– Frequently Asked Questions – Shopping Cart – Forum – Email – Statistics

Updating

There are two plausible routes here. Either an online or offline content management system based on a personal computer (CMS). The online CMS can be either an Open Source CMS (Open Source refers to any application that has been made freely available to developers for viewing and modification) or a Commercial CMS (Commercial means any application that has been made freely available to developers for viewing and modification). MySQL and PHP are two examples of open source applications) or commercial.

Both routes have their advantages and disadvantages. Anyone with the appropriate security clearance can access an online system from any location at any time. Obviously, a PC-based system is limited to the PCs that are running the licenses. Macromedia Contribute, which integrates with Dreamweaver, is an example of a PC-based system. There are numerous commercial and open source options available online, including SuiteWiseTM, Drupal, Joomla, and Website Baker. Even this, however, is complicated by the fact that some shopping cart solutions include a content management system (CMS) that may be sufficient for the needs of many businesses.

Shopping cart and customer relationship management

Additionally, there are two viable options for the shopping cart – open source or commercial.

There are some excellent open source shopping carts available, such as OS Commerce and Zen, but there are also some excellent commercial solutions available, such as Actinic and Customer Focus Quick Order Portal (which comes with a complete CMS).

Additional considerations for the shopping cart include the following:

– Is it self-contained or does it integrate easily with your existing stock control systems?

– Is it easy to integrate with accounting software (e.g. Sage, QuickBooks)?

– Does it include or integrate easily with future Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems?

Forum

Many CMS include integrated forums; however, if yours does not, we recommend using an Open Source package such as PunBB or phpBB. They are completely free, feature-rich, and simple to integrate and customise into any website.

Email

The majority of content management systems, shopping carts, and forums include email functionality. However, some solutions are quite straightforward. If the shopping cart solution that best meets the ecommerce and other requirements does not include an effective integrated email solution, and if the same is true for the CMS and forum solutions, stand-alone Open Source applications such as PHPlist are one option, while an online solution such as Constant Contact or one of the many others is another.

Statistics

This is, without a doubt, the most critical component of the package. If you do not understand how visitors to your website and shop behave, what turns them on and off, it is far, far more difficult to increase sales and site profitability. Commercial applications such as WebTrends and ClickTracks must be evaluated to determine which ones are the best fit.

MARKETING FOR YOUR WEBSITE

There are four major areas to consider in this instance.

– Offline marketing – for example, in-store marketing. What is the most cost-effective way to generate web traffic and orders from non-web activities?

– Site optimization – how to ensure that the technical structure, copy, content, back-links, and a variety of other factors are optimized initially and continuously in order to achieve as many high search engine placements as possible for relevant searches.

– Pay per click and other forms of online marketing – how to generate traffic by advertising against search engine keywords and phrases and by placing advertisements on other websites.

– Email marketing – how to build an email list and leverage it to increase profitable sales.

In

– Manage the project – Think like the customer – Invest in excellent software that simplifies the process of finding the right product and price – Make terms and payment simple – Ensure you have adequate stock and delivery timeframes
– Ensure that you have an effective CRM system and effective communication channels – mail, phone, and e-mail.
– Appropriately market the site – Monitor activity – use your stats to test, track, and experiment

Cost……well, how long is a piece of string, but you could be up and running for a fraction of the cost of new premises!!!

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