Get Started E-Commerce
Never before has an industry grown to such a global economic stature in such a short time as has internet commerce. Experts say that on-line revenues for 1999 were in the neighborhood of $30 to $40 billion. Needless to say, many businesses who had previously snubbed their noses at the internet are beginning to explore the possibilities that the new global economy presents. Retailers are finding that a combination of their retail outlets and an on-line presence allows them to better compete on both fronts. In fact, e-tailers who also have retail locations have proven in many instances to be more reliable and successful than companies with only internet based operations.
I like to think of establishing an internet presence as opening a new global location on the internet. You cannot just throw up a web page and start taking orders…you have to carefully plan, implement and market your new location, just as you would a new retail location. Instead of shelves and display racks, you need a good hosting service. Instead of hiring sales clerks, you hire designers, artists, programmers, and photographers. A good web developer can bring all these elements together, along with marketing support, to help you to take advantage of the new global economy.
Here is my getting started in E-Commerce Checklist:
- Decide on domain name(s)
First step is to secure a domain name (or several) with Network Solutions. It's a good idea to arrange your hosting prior to registering your domain name(s) as it costs more to reserve a name than it does to register it, and you have to have numbers for where your site will be located in order to register your name. You may want to register several if there are multiple available names that particularly suit your business
- Arrange Hosting
There are a multitude of hosting options available to you. The most important factors to consider are the amount of disk space included, e-mail accounts, band-width availability, but most importantly if your host supports the applications that you are developing. If you are going to build an e-commerce site, you will want to be sure that your host supports Active Server Pages (ASP), and if you have more than a hundred or so items, you will want to have SQL Server Database support. SQL Server adds to your hosting bill, but is well worth the extra expense for speed and reliability. If you are planning to have real-time automatic credit card processing, you will need to set up your merchant account separately with a processing service like AuthorizeNet. Your web developer should be able to assist with this as well.
- Plan the structure of your site
You need to break your products into categories. Each category or department may have multiple sub-departments. This map is essential to being able to build your site in an organized manner. You need to think about things like which types of items go with which others to allow promotional campaigns and suggestive selling…which fries go with which sandwiches, so to speak.
- Gather content for your site
You will need to gather item numbers, short and long descriptions, prices, shipping weights, and digital images of every item that you want to sell on your website. You will need to process each image into several different sizes and name them by the item number. If you have a database that contains this data, you can save a considerable amount of time by converting the database into the format that you need for your commerce package rather than entering the data by hand. Sometimes your vendor will have digital photographs available that you can use, if not, you will have to have digital pictures taken or have them scanned and processed.
- Prepare your offices and your staff
You need to make sure that the staff members that will be handling the incoming orders are properly equipped and trained. They will need a modern, fast computer, full-time internet connection, e-mail programs, and the computer skills to process the orders. If you have powerful contact management software like GoldMine, and a good technical person, you can automate many of the tedious customer service tasks. A good web developer can offer assistance in this arena as well.
- Begin marketing your site
Once the structure of your site is in place, you will want to begin marketing your site. The first step is to include your website address in everything that you do. It should be on your business cards, letterhead, e-mail, and all marketing and advertising materials. After your signature on a letter should be, "visit our website at www.yourdomain.com. The best place to start is your current and past customers. Develop systems that make it easier for them to do more business with you. Build in referral programs to entice your customers to send their friends to the site.
- Submit your site to search engines and link sites
First, you need a complete list of every possible search word or phrase that you can think of that a prospective client of yours may search for when looking for the products that you sell. These are set up in the html code on your website as meta-tags. These are the descriptions that are used by the search engines as search criteria. A good web developer will have programs that will automatically submit your site to hundreds of search engines and link sites. Otherwise, you can visit each site that you wish to be added to and fill out a form to submit your site. Even if you use automated submission programs, you need to submit to the top ten or twenty by hand occasionally, as these submissions are handled with a higher priority by the search engines. You have to submit on a regular basis for quite some time in order to raise yourself higher on the list. The more unique your product or service, the faster you can expect to raise up to a higher ranking on the search engines.
- Arrange reciprocal links to and from related sites
A good way to get this started is to create a links page on your site and offer to put links to other sites in return for them placing links back to yours. Other businesses with related lines of products or services that are not in direct competition with you are normally happy to enter into this type of an arrangement as it increases traffic to all sites involved.
- Advertising banners
As you surf around on the net, you will see advertising banners everywhere. These banners vary greatly in price depending on the number of visitors and visibility of your banner. This type of advertising can be very expensive and should be carefully targeted to the appropriate types of sites with the right demographic user-base to attract the right type of prospects. You will want to have several different banners professionally designed and carefully test and track results in order to get the maximum bang for the buck.
- Marketing after the sale
Once you have attracted a customer to your website and made an initial sale, you will want to market related products to them on a regular basis. A good e-commerce package will have features built in to allow you to automatically send e-mail advertisements to previous customers, based on the category of merchandise that they have purchased in the past, promoting related products and special offers. You may wish to market to them by direct mail as well.
- The right developers for the project
You may be getting the picture that there are a lot of details that have to be taken care of in order to make your on-line venture a success. If you just want to build a first-class e-commerce site, you will need to be sure that you are dealing with web developers who have the experience and knowledge to make it happen. It is a very complex business and requires a substantial amount of experience and technology in order to project a professional image and to ensure the reliability and security of the system. If you are building a small static html website without on-line ordering capabilities, you may be able to hire some High School kids to build your site for you inexpensively. If you are building a real web presence and plan to sell product through your site, you will want to hire professionals.
Consumers are increasingly moving to on-line shopping because of the convenience of having no crowds to fight, no parking shortage, and no salesman to deal with. If you are not on-line, these consumers are going to purchase from someone else who has the vision to accommodate their needs. E-Commerce truly is the future of business…Are you ready to step into the 21st century and take advantage of the opportunity that the new global economy presents? Commerce Developers can get you there in short order.