eCommerce – Definition & Tips on Building an Online Store

If you are looking for a definition of eCommerce, an explanation of how it works and what it can do for you, look no further. This article aims to give you an idea of what the subject entails and how it can be used to your company’s advantage.

E Commerce (Electronic Commerce) is the process of selling any goods or services over the internet. The advantages to using the internet as a platform to sell your products are numerous but the pitfalls are just as many. To avoid the traps and make the most of this selling medium, there are a few things to consider.

The E Commerce Website

The E Commerce website is the location where your products can be found. A good way to start taking advantage of the internet as a selling tool is to use an established website to advertise your products such as eBay or Amazon. While this method guarantees your products some exposure, due to the consistent traffic on these sites, whichever company you choose will levy a charge for listing with them and a commission once sold. This method is also limited in terms of forging your company’s online brand. Establishing your own e-commerce website gives you complete control over how your products are listed and how the site looks. You can also use your own website to publicise contact details and allow visitors to make enquiries.

Getting Visitors to Your E Commerce Website

The lure of established auction or sales websites is their consistent traffic. When creating an e commerce website for your own company you will need to ensure people get to see it. This is an ongoing process which is known as SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) which ensures that search engines take away the correct information from your site and rank it as highly as possible. In addition, SEO includes promotion of the site and should be an ongoing process.

E Commerce Software Solutions

This is the system which runs on your website and creates the content for visitors to see. There are numerous e commerce software solutions out there. They can be categorised as follows:

Open Source E Commerce Solution – These solutions are free to download and try but keep in mind that they were developed by a community and as such they cannot provide support for your implementation.

Commercial E Commerce Solution – These solutions are similar to open source packages except they are produced by a company and require a license to be purchased. The advantage to this solution is the company that produced the software can be relied upon to provide support.

Bespoke E Commerce Solution – These solutions are produced specifically for one website by a web design company. This should give you a unique looking online shop and you will be able to agree with the design company the exact features you are after. While this may require the highest initial outlay, it will go a long way towards making a complete online presence for your business.

E Commerce Hosting

This is the service used to host your online shop. There are many different e commerce hosting service providers who supply suitable packages but essentially you will need, web space, server side scripting (ASP or PHP for example), a database (to store your product information) and an SSL certificate. An SSL certificate allows your visitors to encrypt data they send to your site. This is essential to operate a shop securely wherever you require visitors to enter sensitive information such as their credit card details.

Hosting features extend way beyond those mentioned above but they are the essential requirements for setting up an E Commerce online shop.

Web 2.0 in eCommerce

There has never been a better time to start an online business! According to Jupiter Research, a market research firm, online retail spending in the United States will increase to a whopping $95 billion in 2006. In Europe things are getting even better! In next five years the number of online shoppers will increase 75 percent and per person average spending will increase 50 percent. This will push European eCommerce to $335 billion by 2011.

If you are planning to start a new online business or upgrade your existing eCommerce site, you should consider using some of the innovative ideas related to Web 2.0 concept. Three years ago if you would have searched the phrase “Web 2.0”, you probably would not have found any mention of this term on the Internet. Now, at the last count, Google showed close to 60 million results relevant to this search. Amazing! First time this term was coined by O’Reilly Media to vaguely define a concept of second generation websites which were emerging after the dot com crush. Since their first use of this phrase to promote conferences organized by O’Reilly Media and MediaLive International, the idea of Web 2.0 has become immensely popular in web development sector.

So, what is this Web 2.0 concept any way? There is no exact definition of Web 2.0 available today. If you run a search for a definition of this phrase the only quotation you will receive is from Wikipedia, which says, “Web 2.0 is a term often applied to a perceived ongoing transition of the World Wide Web from a collection of websites to a full-fledged computing platform serving web applications to end users. Ultimately Web 2.0 services are expected to replace desktop computing applications for many purposes.” Tell me if I am wrong, this definition does not give a slightest clue about what really is Web 2.0.

Tim O’Reilly himself explained the Web 2.0 phenomena in five pages of examples, abstract terminologies, sketches and jargon in a great article. Unfortunately, if you are not a very Internet-savvy person, you will have hard time understanding the concept clearly from this article. To make things worse if you read other articles on this subject you will be even more confused! The reason is simple! Being a new concept many ideas related to Web 2.0 are abstract and still forming. However, there are some fundamental principles and indicators of Web 2.0 ideology which are true for any Web 2.0 based sites even if it is an eCommerce one.

The problem with eCommerce is, although in last five years many changes, some are drastic, have taken place in philosophy, ideology and technology related to the Web, very few things have changed in eCommerce sites. Now, it all started to change! Even successful eCommerce sites are experimenting with new ideas born from Web 2.0 concept. The result is visible! A recent survey shows adoption of new interactive functionalities, innovative product catalog and better communication with users have increased online sales for 83 percent of respondents.

Earlier online merchants were not very keen to have customer interaction elements like product review and rating, online surveys, customer blogs, etc. fearing flames from unsatisfied customers. But a recent poll shows that this fear is unfounded. It seems that 9 percent shoppers polled wrote a product review on a store site about a product they liked against 4 percent who posted a review about a product they did not like. Same goes for surveys! There are 2.5 percent more chances that a satisfied customer will participate in a survey than an unsatisfied one.

Many eCommerce sites lose a large number of their prospective customers due to inadequate product information required to take an affirmative buying decision. Customer reviews and ratings can help merchants in this. More over a positive review works like a call for action for the people reading it.

Most professional classification systems used in eBusiness are pretty complicated for daily use. A good way to give users a better method of finding product is to incorporate user added keywords or “tags”. If a user likes a product and may buy it now, or may keep a reference of it for future use, she can add one or several informal keywords as tags and save. These tags are visible to others and can be displayed two ways: in tag clouds, where the most popular tags have bigger fonts and most recent tags, a list of newly added tags. The popularity of tags in numerous Web 2.0 sites proves viability of this device in eCommerce sites as well.

Elements like ability to do side-by-side comparison of several products, ability to customize products according to buyer’s need, and the ability to filter and search products without constant page reloading can increase conversion rate dramatically.

Many eCommerce sites have the functionality of sending email notification of new listings of products that a user is looking for. A good idea is to add RSS notification ability to enhance product information request service also.

A staggering 60 percent of online shoppers abandon their carts at some point in the buying process. The following site functionalities will help businesses to retain these shoppers:

o Shoppers should have the ability to see thumbnail pictures of the products inside the shopping cart.

o Editing and adding products to the shopping cart should be done automatically without reloading.

o Shoppers should be able to save shopping cart anytime and it should be saved automatically if connection fails.

o Shoppers should be able to drag and drop products to the cart and all calculation should be done automatically.

Many of the functionalities mentioned in this article were available long before Web 2.0 concept emerged and these are only a minuscule number of examples of abilities you can actually add to your Web 2.0 based eCommerce site, however, if you fail to notice the progress and take necessary actions, you maybe losing a great opportunity. Transformation in eCommerce sites is slow, but one thing is for sure, in coming years these sites will be noticeably different from what we have now.

How Customers Can Help Improve Your Ecommerce Site

Getting people to visit your ecommerce website is always good; but translating these clicks into sales is even better. When it comes to promoting your ecommerce site, creating traffic is always important. Even if you have a good ecommerce web hosting plan for your site, if you are not significantly turning these clicks to sales, then it could be a huge problem for your online business. In this case, you need to improve your ecommerce site. Other than a reliable ecommerce web hosting plan, you can improve your site’s usability by knowing exactly what your customers want. You may not know it, but other than the right ecommerce web hosting plan, your customers just may be the very people who can help make your ecommerce site achieve its goals.

For one, customers want you to be specific. For instance, if you offer free shipping for orders, then your customers expect that their purchases will be shipped to them for free wherever they may be located. Unless your free shipping features are limited to selected locations, you need to be specific about it otherwise your customers will feel that you are ripping them off. Point out whether you offer free shipping for selected location or free shipping to anywhere and be clear about it. Customers always want to get what they expect from your ecommerce site. If you fail to give them what they want, then they will definitely leave.

Also, keep in mind that a customer’s time is precious, so you don’t want to waste his/her time taking interest in your product that is not available. When a customer sees a product on your ecommerce site, then s/he expects that it is available. Nothing can be frustrating or disappointing than for a customer to be informed that the item is not available just when it has already been dropped into his/her shopping cart. Always inform your customer beforehand that the product is unavailable. You would not want to waste your customer’s time, much less, confidence in your service.

To give your customers a better shopping experience at your ecommerce site, you may want to allow them to back-order a product once it is available. Several ecommerce web hosting packages come with a back-order feature so you might want to take advantage of that. If, however, you are unable to provide this feature, then get your customer’s contact info, at the very least. This way, you can make for a potential sale in future time.

Customers also do not like too many distractions especially when shopping online. You may offer cross-selling to your customers in your ecommerce site, in which you give recommendations or suggestions on related products. However, cross-sell items that are only related to what your customers pick. Suggesting items off their choices is not only an improper selling technique but can be very annoying for your customers as well.

Cross-selling should also stop once your customer checks out products from the shopping cart. The next thing that your customer wants is to close the sale, so avoid directing them to unrelated links. These unwanted links are not only unhelpful but they may change your customer’s mind about purchasing the item/s in his/her shopping cart. You would not want this to happen if you aim to make your e-commerce site profitable. This should also apply to window-shoppers on your ecommerce website. Avoid unnecessary pop-ups or advertisements as much as possible. The right ecommerce web hosting plan can help you avoid this from happening.

A customer’s attention span tends to be shorter especially when shopping online. Even in just a split second, they decide whether or not your ecommerce site can give them what they are looking for.

Moreover, you want to convince your customers that shopping in your ecommerce site is just a click away. If they have to click through your site so many times just to get to what they are really looking for, then they are more likely to abandon your ecommerce site. Customers also get annoyed with broken links and pages that load too slow as well, so avoid them as much as possible. To avoid this, get an ecommerce web hosting plan that allows superior usability.

Your ecommerce site should also pay a premium on customer’s privacy and do all means to protect it. Ask information that is only needed to close the sale. Asking too many questions may only draw suspicion among your customers. Your ecommerce site should provide your customers a safe and secure environment for giving out sensitive information.

You might want to get live chat software for your ecommerce site to better promote your products and provide maximum customer support. Although this may apply to bigger ecommerce sites, it can significantly boost sales. Many ecommerce web hosting providers offer this feature in their packages.