One of the most popular Internet myths claim that building an online store is easy: All the customer has to do is point, click, and buy. But in reality, successful e-commerce is far more complex and unlike any other web site project you have tackled in the past. Before that first cyber buck finds it’s way into your bank account, you need to do considerable research and planning.
To get started you can begin thinking about all the issues that need to be addressed before you can even put together a successful online business plan.
You can now imagine a real company that suddenly decides to regard the “welcome” announcement of e-commerce.
Say you’re working for the Ford Motor Company, the nation’s leading supplier of heavy-duty trucks. Your CEO is catching up on the past several months of business journals and when the spark plugs start firing. Those screaming headlines cannot be ignored: “Consumer E-Commerce Will Jump To 26 Billion By 2002” and “U.S. Online Business Trade Will Soar to 1.3 Trillion By 2003”. Most importantly, Chevy has rumored to begin its own e-business plan. So the big wig meets with the board of directors, and after an agonizing long deliberation, you are told that they want www.ford.com open in six weeks. Plenty of time they insist. After all there are millions of schmucks out there building award winning web sites and making a plethora of cash to pay for college.
Immediately go register the domain name ford.com for the company and then make your plan. Planning ahead for the unexpected gotchas of e-commerce that can hit you unexpectedly. Planning ahead will not only save you redevelopment time down the road, but it will also help you make educated decisions as you choose the right e-business solution for your company.
The Many Choices of Beginning
Before your can select the right setup for your e-business, you must determine exactly what you need to be competitive online. Most likely you will need some software to help you manage your products, your promotions, your customers, and their orders. You may also need some additional programs to handle the tax, shipping, and payment processing of your orders.
A number of off the shelf solutions have grown over the past few years that give you these core features and allow you to plug-in other software modules to handle the complexities of taxation, the varieties of shipping options, and all the popular forms of payment.
Solutions like Intershop’s ePages, iCat’s Lemonade Stand, or Yahoo’s Stores provide pre-fabricated storefronts that are ready. Just pick a design and fill in your products and you are ready for business.
Other applications, like Intershop 3.0 and iCat Professional, allow you to change the pre-made storefronts to your own personal look and feel. These programs also allow you to extend the html setups to even more alter the features and behaviors of the storefront.
The above solutions rely on other e-commerce software from CyberCash or OpenMarket for payment processing, Taxware for tax calculations, and Tandata for up to date shipping information.
Building Your Plans
As soon as you are building your plans you should construct a requirements document. At this point it is a good time to get the attention of all the corporate departments involved. That way everyone’s input is in at the beginning, instead of too late. All ideas and potential conflicts are confronted early.
It is hard to know which technology solution is good for you, until you have a detailed list of requirements that you can compare the solutions against. Therefore, you can choose an e-commerce platform that will deliver your goals to the online customers. You should also take the chance to plan for where the company is going to be in 2, 5, and 10 years. If you set your solution up correctly now, when your company grows and expands its range for service, you can simply add to the original foundation and not throw out your work.
More specifically your plan should answer the questions of how the products will be presented. The organization of how you would expect your customers to shop online, pretty cautiously when looking to order an automobile. The cars may be searched for through keywords or features. Prioritizing all the raw information to allow the most important information to be readily accessible.
The first version of the project concentrates on building up the company’s online customer base from the promotion of the unique service. Then once a minimum monthly order volume is sustained, the company will commit to putting resources toward automating the back office and fulfillment systems. Until then the current employee’s will just key in the orders.
You will want the customers to tell us what kind of vehicle they are looking for and you can tell them what you have to fit their needs. You will need a tool that can make changes to the product you offer in real time.
Order and transaction processing:
At this point the Internet is not reliable enough to take this high of priced orders safely so consumers will only be able to compare features and make requests online.
Banner ads, registering with search engines, and sending direct email to get qualified customers to the site. Then you can figure out which tactic effectively brings the most customers and invest in the one that makes the most sense.
Fulfillment and customer service
Orders that arrive on the server need to be relayed to the fulfillment center quickly so that you can pick, pack and ship the product before the fed ex truck leaves the dock at 5:00pm. Also let customers know the status of their orders so they don’t need to call the company.
Software and hosting:
A third party host may be a wise choice, as you don’t want to stay with the orders around the clock.
Individuals trying to make an easy fortune on web business beware of the task at hand, and do not start by patronizing the buy a plan sites already on the net.