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Article: Successful E-commerce

Not when you choose Wizardry over Knowledge?

Adding E-commerce encompasses so much more than a variety of templates and colors that attempt to match the look and feel of your current website. A few text rollover effects, animated graphics, brief descriptions, thumbnails and photos of the products really only provide you with an online catalogue.

Such issues as user interfaces, marketing, branding, merchandising, navigation systems, website architecture and data flow is of prime consideration in establishing a successful Internet presence. It also encompasses intangible elements, such as how the human brain breaks up information, eye hand co-ordination and just plain old human nature.

Successful websites make clear to the shopper which categories of products are available, and provide easy site-navigation links. From anywhere in these sites, the shopper can easily proceed to browse more products without having to waste time searching. It would seem fairly obvious that a good navigation system is required for a successful e-commerce site, but as you may have noticed, many sites on the Internet are sorely lacking in this regard.

Many companies are also spending significant amounts of money to launch E-businesses on the Internet. But how many of these companies are taking the right approach when it comes to building a memorable, positive brand image that online consumers will be attracted to in the long term?

A key issue is that branding in the online world is far more than just transferring your print brand identity to the Web. Yes, it includes a graphic design image, but your brand in the world of e-business is more largely affected by the interactive experience you provide your users. The Web is a medium that allows you to quickly build one-to-one relationships with your customers.

What is even more important is the quality of those relationships. Your Web site's ability to engage your customers and facilitate an ongoing relationship with them is the real key to successful branding on the Internet.

Selling off-line is very much built on personal relationships developed over time. Many sales manuals describe the average five to eight customer contacts necessary to complete a sale. These can involve telephone, e-mail and even salespeople visiting a customer's place of business, etc.

With the Internet your website has to encapsulate your entire approach. When visitors arrive at your website your online store must entice these potential shoppers to make a purchase. Yet, with one click your potential shopper can be gone, never to return.

Why? The list is long but not insurmountable. A well thought E-commerce website designed by knowledgeable business experts need not be too expensive for most small and medium sized companies. The emphasis being on well thought out and business experts. The majority of Wizard based, templates driven do-it-yourself style e-commerce systems, for a multitude of reasons are simply not effective with today's sophisticated on-line shoppers. Some may enable you to make sales but certainly do not allow you to operate at full potential.

Certain issues in establishing an E-commerce presence do not even concern the look and feel of the site. Admittedly graphics do not have to be overly large in file size or too flashy. A quick loading site is a must as the vast majority of consumers connect to the Internet from their homes with relatively slow modems. A slow loading online store crammed with overly long content or graphics typically ends your relationship before it has begun.

Also when purchasing online, shoppers are often required to provide an entire host of personal information, including a mailing address, phone number, e-mail addresses and billing information. In general, requiring these disclosures can discourage certain shoppers from purchasing directly online. The addition of a toll free line in itself can make an important difference.

As well, in order to alleviate shoppers' privacy concerns an E-commerce site should provide guarantees that shoppers' personal information will not be sold to other companies for mailing lists and other solicitation purposes. Maintaining consumer confidence is essential for your online store.

A major concern of online shoppers is that of poor customer support. They question the merchant's response to issues that may arise after the purchase has been made. The concern is whether the online merchant has the expertise or personnel required in resolving technical issues relating to the setup or use of the product. Posting a page outlining your technical support policies and a F.A.Q section is a step towards addressing these legitimate shopper concerns.

Another factor affecting consumer confidence is a concern that they will be dissatisfied with the product purchased without the benefit of examining the product physically before purchase. It may be necessary to implement and post an unconditional exchange or refund policy to boost consumer confidence.

These are but a few of the many issues involved in establishing and operating a successful E-commerce website before the graphical and navigation issues are even addressed. Yet they are identical issues faced in operating an offline or 'Bricks & Mortar' business, yet with slightly different methods of resolution.

Realizing that your E-commerce website must be seamlessly integrated into your business, reflecting your company image, reinforcing your brand and providing a smooth and intuitive flow of data, will you choose Wizardry or Knowledge in its construction?

Your website can be your new office in every country of the world, your international customer service center or your global storefront but it needs to look, feel and be run in exactly the same way as the rest of your business. How will you choose? - John Shenton - April, 2002

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N.B.** The articles were first published in the Times (Montreal, Canada) and written by John Shenton as special contributor to the Times Technology Section. Articles and Reports written by us may be printed or displayed on your website providing they are kept intact and a link/attribution to this website or Internet Merchandising Systems plus authorship is displayed.




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