As a worldwide company with offices all over the globe, we get international calls daily about e-commerce from all over the world -- Boise, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, New York, Las Vegas, Lagos, and California to name a few. When these calls come in, usually the client has a lot of e-commerce 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. Whatever 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:
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, few 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 customers 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.
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? 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. This brings us to the next point.
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 this can be a huge job for a large number of items. It is important if your dealing with iBCScorp™ or some other e-commerce or web design company, that you consider how you will get the data into your new online store before you start the project. 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 to enter products, 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. This can be done using a Content Management System.
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 for anything other than being able to manage product content. Also, there are rare cases when 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. These particular clients 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 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 why 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, just putting up some static HTML pages doesn't cut it. The content needs to be dynamic and living. If you are not posting new information about new products, new research, new uses, etc. for your products, it is a declining market for you, even if your selling a commodity item. The information about your products online is an important part of a customers purchasing decision. Another important question we ask is: How will the product be paid for?
This may seem like an obvious one, but it isn't. There are all kinds of issues to think about. If you are a low volume website, PayPal may be fine. If you are a higher volume company, 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 as 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 it processes 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 whether there are recurring payments, partial payments, or other special arrangements. These are definitely issues which should be understood before any e-commerce project is started.
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 are obviously a whole lot of issues behind this one too, 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 create, implement, or integrate with ERP systems, but I won't cover that here.
Yep, don't hesitate to look around at what other people are doing, both 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." Knowing what you like about other sites can also help us get an idea of what design you are looking for.
Yeah, I know we ask this question and we hear this response 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 product we can. We want you to be a successful business and for us to partner with you by 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.