E-commerce Questions

Although we are located in Saint George Utah, daily we get calls about e-commerce from all over the country, Salt Lake City, New York,  Las Vegas, California to name a few.  When these calls come in, usually the client has a lot of ecommerce questions about what they need to do in order to sell things online.  As an internet consulting company, we like to provide the best advice and recommendations we possibly can.  The success of our customers is paramount.

Typically when a customer calls us about a new or existing e-commerce project, we have more questions for them than they have for us.  In this post I am going to try and go over some of these questions because they are things that anyone should think about when doing an e-commerce project.  It doesn't matter what you are selling online, to be successful selling it you need to choose the right software to sell it.  There is no one size fits all solution, and careful thought should be put in to make sure you choose a solution that works for you long term, and helps your company be successful.

Often the customers calling us have a pre-determined notion of what they want because of some article they read or because of something a friend recommended.  We still want to verify that the platform they want to use is the right one for them.  Common platforms include Magento E-commerce, Joomla Virtue Mart, Spree - based on Ruby on Rails, SilverStripe, OS Commerce.  But there are many!

Still the following are things we want to understand:

How many products do you intend to sell online?

If a company or individual has only a few products to sell, we might recommend a totally different solution than we would if they had a few hundred, thousand or even a few hundred thousand items.  If there are only a few items for sale, we might also ask are they being sold one at a time? or would someone purchase several at one time.  If they are only likely to buy one type of item at a time, and if there are only a few items, a simple buy now button might suffice.

However if there are many items, and the user might purchase any number of different items then a shopping cart will be necessary.  Even then the cart we recommend will depend on the number of products, what kind of products those are and how those products will go into the online store once it is developed.

Naturally if there are only a few or even a few dozen they can be manually entered with great care to make sure everything is perfect for each item.  If there are a few thousand however, it is a completely different scenario.

Are the products simple or are they configurable?

If there are a lot of products the next thing we might want to know is what the products look like from a data point of view.  Are they simple products like a white undershirt that comes in three sizes?  Or are they configurable products like a shirt that comes in three sizes, 9 colors and a choice of 5 different images on the shirt?

These two scenarios might look completely different in the store, and certainly will be completely different when loading the data in.

Which brings us to the next point

How will the products be entered into the store?

Some distributors and manufacturers do an excellent job of providing product catalogs in a CSV format with excellent descriptions, titles, images and everything you need to put them into your online store.  Interestingly however most of them don't.  It is like they deliberately don't want you to be able to define their product to your customers.

If the number of items is small manually entering them is a great option, but again for a large number of items this can be a huge job.  And it is important if your dealing with iBCScorp or some other E-commerce or web design company, that you consider before you start the project how you will get the data into your new online store.

We have had to do all kinds of things in the past, from manually entering product data from paper catalogs, to writing code to screen scrape the market in order to capture product data to populate stores.  The simplest way however is typically a simple CSV import provided you can get good clean data.

Once the data is loaded into the system, you can optimize each page with the help of our SEO experts to help make that data distinct and better than any competitors who may have used the same CSV import.  It is important that any website be easy to maintain - not just the product data, but other product related data as well using a Content Management System.

Is a Content Management System CMS required?

I think mostly yes it is required.  Sometimes it is not, like if you already have one, or if somehow you have a fixed list of clientele who you sell to and you don't necessarily need to market on the internet, otherwise I would say definitely so.

In some cases a customer may have an extensive wordpress or Joomla Blog already in place with tons of traffic.  Lets not ruin a good thing we can figure out a way to add a store to or along side an existing community or traffic source, this is fine and a CMS may not be required accept for being able to manage product content.

Also there are rare cases where customers have come to us with a set list of clients they sell to - say distributors, and they don't even want their products necessarily to be available for non distributors - so they don't care about SEO, they don't care about press releases and they don't need to drive traffic to their site.  If this isn't you then you need a CMS.

Many customers over look the importance of a content management system (CMS) with their online store.  Truth is building a better mousetrap doesn't really work.  There have been many many ideas which have failed because it doesn't matter how great your product or idea is if people don't know about it.  This is where a CMS is important.  The content in a CMS helps drive traffic, and helps to educate your potential clients about your company and products.

No a just putting up some static html pages doesn't cut it.  The content needs to be dynamic and living.  Posting new information about new products, new research, new uses etc. for your products, otherwise, it is a declining market for you, even if your selling a commodity item, the information about that item is an important part of making a purchasing decision online.

Another important question we ask is how will the product be paid for?

How will you take payment on your online store?

This may seem like an obvious one, but it isn't.  There are all kinds of issues to think about.  If your low volume PayPal may be fine.  If your higher volume however you definitely will need a merchant account and a payment gateway.

A merchant account is the same thing that all retailers use to process credit cards.  In a brick and mortar store, they use a machine to swipe your card.   This is accepted a secure way to take payment.  When taking payments over the internet, we have the same security concerns.  These concerns are handled by what is called a payment gateway.  This payment gateway replaces the swipe machine at the grocery store, and they process all of the transactions through to the merchant account.  The merchant account then processes them through to your bank.

Still there are other things to consider - such as are there recurring payments, partial payments or other special arrangements.  These are definitely issues which should be understood before any e-commerce project is started.  Another is how will you deliver product once it is paid for?

How will you deliver what you have sold?

Will this be a web based delivery, will you be shipping products?  How will you ship them USPS, UPS, Common Carrier, International?  In some cases we have had clients do custom shipping quotes because they have to schedule freight.  In most cases however simple USPS and UPS integration suffice.  There is obviously a whole lot of issues behind this one as well such as drop shipping, order processing, warehouse management etc.  These issues usually step beyond an e-commerce platform, but they are a huge piece of e-commerce.  Typically the fulfillment, accounting, purchasing etc. are handled in another system like an ERP system - we do this but I won't cover that here.

What e-commerce sites do you like and what do you like about them?

Yep, don't hesitate to look around at what other people are doing right and wrong.  If you find a good concept, it is often easier to show us a site that you like and say we want a widget on there similar to this.  Also for design this can help us get an idea of what you are looking for.

What is your budget?

Yea I know we ask this question and we hear all the time, I don't want to tell you what my budget is I want you to tell me what it is going to take.

Our objective however is to deliver you the best product we can within a budget that is affordable and fits with your plans.  Sometimes this can't be done, but usually it can.  We will work hard to balance out feature requirements with an affordable budget to give you the best we can.  We want you to be a successful business and for us to be a partner with you supporting you long term and helping your business grow.

If you want to talk about your e-commerce ideas please don't hesitate to give us a call.  435-215-4674.