Several years ago, while preparing for a commercial presentation about e-commerce (essentially, a story about web shops) a co-worker and I agreed upon the following thesis: a web shop is not e-commerce, and e-commerce is not a web shop. We concluded that the perception many people have is simply wrong: everything they know about this topic is based on what they can see or on their own experience as buyers of things on the Internet. So what does this actually mean?
Many begin the adventure of opening a web shop without enough knowledge about what they will need in order to be successful or what to expect along the way.
Building a successful web shop - one that has good sales results and faithful customers who come back and recommend your site to others, that will help develop your business and increase brand recognition - requires a lot of preliminary work before any programming starts.
Entering into the waters of e-commerce unprepared often leads to frustration, poor sales, extra costs unmitigated by sales results, unfulfilled expectations, logistical problems, and a slew of other business-related difficulties that eventually can reflect on the overall success of your business.
That’s why it’s important to be aware of all the components of e-commerce. You need to know what preconditions have to be realized, what kinds of preparations must be made, how to adapt your business operations so that e-commerce naturally fits in, and much more.
Here we will mention B2C web shops (i.e., “business-to-customer” or “business-to-consumer” web shops), which are designed for end buyers - in other words, individuals.
B2B (“business-to-business”) e-commerce solutions are a separate topic, one which we will discuss sometime in the future.
A web shop is not an island
In addition to everything the customers of a web shop can see, there are many unseen building blocks that support the site.
The potential customer of a web shop sees the site’s design, products, and payment and delivery data - but that’s just about it. A person who is a registered and returning customer at a good web shop can see his/her earlier purchases and transactions, related products, suggested products, etc.
But there’s a whole lot there that the customer doesn’t see. This includes integrations with ERP business applications (commodity-material bookkeeping), integrations with payment gateway providers who authorize credit cards, integrations with delivery operators, warehouses, internal orders, assembly and packaging orders, servicing, etc. The future owner of a web shop must keep all of this in mind while in the planning stage.
So it’s a good idea to write a list of all of these elements and to determine how each one will be integrated into the web shop. Sometimes this will be a true technical integration (e.g., information exchange with ERP), and sometimes just the organizational question of how the rest of the business will collaborate with the web shop (for example, the organization of a special warehouse).
“Arrest, transfer, and hold” the customer
If you announce that you are opening a web shop on the Internet and then just sit there waiting for your customers to arrive on their own, then you’ve forfeited the game before it even started. That’s why it’s important to come up with a strategy for attracting customers by advertising and sending information to key groups and potential buyers.
And in order to do this, the following steps are necessary:
1. Determine what you are going to sell online:
- part of the assortment - e.g., of all the footwear that you offer, the web shop will offer only sports shoes.
- small or light physical objects because they are easier and cheaper to deliver (e.g., out of all your furniture and household items you might decide to offer only small cabinets, chairs, and pillows at the web shop).
- digital content - e.g., music for downloading, electronic books, software
- access rights to online content - e.g., a subscription to premium content on the web
2. Define who your customers are:
- age group - e.g., 25-40 years
- professional group - e.g., winemakers and wine lovers
- gender group - e.g., mothers of small children
- territorial group - e.g., residents of Zagreb and its surroundings
3. Define the ways in which you will attract customers:
- this is conditioned by the above-mentioned elements: what we offer and who we offer it to
- advertising - online (social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, . . .), Google AdWords, other online advertisements
- advertising offline (printed matter, jumbo posters, radio, television . . .
- mailing lists - newsletters to specific customers
This has proven to be one of the most effective ways to attract customers.
- What is extremely important here is how to collect data from people who agree to having promotional materials sent to them Once the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) goes into effect in May 2018, this method will be significantly more difficult because of the need for the person to explicitly agree to give his data (i.e., email address) for the distribution of promotional materials.
4. Define the ways in which you plan to convert interested, "I’m-only-looking” visitors into customers who actually buy things:
- give them a reason to shop at your web shop (better prices, free delivery, the possibility of shopping at any time, the possibility of live interaction - online chatting)
- give them added benefits if they buy more (related products, bundling several things together, giving regular customers added discounts - building a loyalty system …)
- offer added possibilities (e.g., the possibility of sending gifts to others)
- give special offers for limited time periods (discounts that apply only this weekend or until midnight tonight)
5. Simplify payment and the buying process:
- offer a variety of payment methods (credit cards, Paypal, bank transfer, etc.); you will need contracts with a payment gateway provider and credit card companies
- offer payment in installments
- Offer a money-back guarantee, in the event of dissatisfaction, for a set period (e.g., 15 days after purchasing, no questions asked)
6. Delivery on time:
- insure flexibility of delivery and stick to promised delivery times, regardless of the customer's location (island, 4th floor walk-up, out-of-the-way village … )
- ensure the possibility of merchandise pickup (e.g., from a branch office, kiosk, warehouse … )
7. Offer added services:
- if, for example, you sell t-shirts, you can also offer the service of applying an image or logo to them
- if you sell appliances (such as TV sets), you can offer installation and configuration services
8. User support:
- have a well-organized customer-support system (e.g., call center, online chat) through which customers’ issues are addressed promptly
- every complaint is an opportunity to sell them something else
But who can handle all that …
Owning a web shop means having people who will constantly keep an eye on it. Not only will data on every product have to be entered into the system, including all the necessary descriptions, prices, and quality photos, but someone will have to keep track everything that goes on concerning the web shop: from recording payments and orders to solving complaints, wrong deliveries, returns, billing, and many other things along the way.
So, if you are entering the world of online sales, you will need to have ready answers to the above-mentioned questions and many more.
The least expensive of these will certainly be your web shop’s software, or application. Everything else will cost you work, time, nerves, patience, and persistence.
If you do not know how to answer these questions on your own, we can help you based on our twenty years of e-commerce experience. Integration with ERP and CRM systems is an important feature of the projects that we have done, such as for the company Greenseeker or for Aquarius Records' Cedeterija. On these and all of our e-commerce projects, we use Magento, the world's leading electronic business platform.
Perpetuum, by the way, had the first web shop in Croatia and conducted its first online transaction—the online sale of a book paid by credit card - way back in 1997.
Welcome to the world of e-commerce!