Identifying e-commerce opportunities
There are several different ways you might use e-commerce in your business.
Many businesses use e-commerce for the direct selling of goods or services online. For some businesses such as those selling software or music, the sale and delivery of goods can be made online. For most the supply of goods will continue to require a physical delivery.
If you plan to sell online, you may need to rethink many of your business activities. You will fundamentally change the way in which you interact with your customers - for example, if customers place orders online instead of talking to a salesperson. You will also need to work out how every aspect of a transaction is handled - including order confirmation, invoicing and payment, and deliveries and returns.
You can use your website for pre-sales activities - exploiting the widespread use of the internet to generate sales leads. At its most basic this can be through the use of 'brochureware' - having an online version of your promotional materials on your site. Other options include email campaigns, search marketing or online advertising to attract visitors to your website.
You can also use the internet to automate aspects of your customer support to reduce the number of routine customer service calls. This can be achieved by using your site to answer the most frequently asked questions, or by putting technical information online.
However you decide to use e-commerce, it is important to define your expectations from the outset. What level of sales are you hoping to make? How many sales leads are you looking to generate? What percentage reduction in customer telephone calls are you expecting to achieve? Ensure that targets are put in place so that you can measure the success, or otherwise, of your e-commerce activities.
The key tool for delivering e-commerce services is the business website. This must be specified, designed, hosted and maintained.
Your website specification should clearly identify what the site is trying to achieve, and how its various components will contribute to this and who your target audience is for both technical and marketing purposes.
Your domain name should be memorable, easy to spell and indicate what your business does so that potential customers can find your site.
You should also use search engine optimisation techniques to ensure your website appears high in search engine listings. .
You can host your own website but most businesses opt to have an internet service provider (ISP) host it on their behalf. See our guide on website hosting options.
You can create your website using a 'shop' package or have the software built from scratch. Shop packages allow you to configure the look and feel of your shop but design options may be limited.