In the 90s and early 2000s, the word ‘e-commerce’ sounded novel and exciting. At that time, anyone who had said, “I have an e-commerce site running” was seen as a tech savvy entrepreneur on their way to becoming an Internet millionaire.
E-commerce simply describes the action of selling goods and services over the Internet. An online store is simply an e-commerce website. For example, a website for a hotel, on which guests can book online, is an e-commerce site. We can even stretch the use of the word “e-commerce” to describe ride-hailing applications.
An important keyword in e-commerce is automation. A website that only displays goods and services, but does not accept payment on-site, is not technically an e-commerce site. That same website may use some components of e-commerce technology, such as cookies to keep track of items in a shopping cart or automatic email collection systems.
E-commerce is thought to be a win-win for both buyers and sellers. Sellers do not need to rent or own a physical store for every transaction, and do not have to employ as many staff. The store can open 24-hours as people can browse and pay for products at a given time, anywhere in the world. In a sense, online businesses transcend time and space.
The greatest advantages for buyers are speed and convenience. Shoppers don’t need to be in a physical store. They can quickly browse through dozens of websites, compare products, and do product research on their own. They choose when and where to buy. In some cases, this may even help curb impulse-buying habits.
Skeptics of e-commerce technology would claim that customers need to physically come to a store, to enjoy the tactile experience, the sights and sounds of the carefully branded space. They suggest that customers need face-to-face interactions from store clerks to give that extra push, to up-sell, and cross-sell.
After all, businesses have spent vast amounts of money in improving the customer experience in the classic, homey, familiar brick-and-mortar stores. Why move online now?
Those who embrace e-commerce technology know that customers are becoming more familiar with the digital world. The way forward is to have an e-commerce website or application. Owning a brick-and-mortar store is increasingly becoming a secondary merchandising strategy for those who can afford them.
Tech savvy generations now prefer to use digital wallets and cashless payments. The freedom to do product research is what is appealing to the next generation of shoppers, ones who are digital natives and have grown up with information and choices at their fingertips. Surfing the web has become an increasingly enjoyable experience as websites and applications became more innovative, user-friendly, and artfully designed.
If you think about it, an e-commerce store has a lot of similarities with a brick-and-mortar store. For example, both stores have two sides — the customer-facing side and the side that is restricted to staff, where the rest of the business activities take place.
Instead of a window display, e-commerce stores have a homepage that displays various featured products. Instead of decorations and furnishings, e-commerce stores have brand colors, neat layouts, and easy navigation that allows customers to intuitively find what they are looking for.
Before you launch your website, before you even purchase a domain and hosting, you should consult with a web designer. This person is akin to your store architect, one who understands how the right visual elements can be combined together to create the best user experience and interface (UX/UI).
What about the store clerks? Most e-commerce stores were built under the assumption that customers prefer to do their own product research, but this doesn’t mean that the business cannot interact with the customers. There are several ways to engage with customers:
A blog is your business knowledge repository. Think of it as your business magazine or publication that contains all the news, insights, tips and tricks, and anything that brings customers additional value for free.
A blog that is well-written and curated can make a big difference in how customers perceive your business. There is also a hidden benefit to it. Search engines will recognize that your website is active, informational, and authoritative. They could feature your website so that it is easier to be found by new customers.
Many e-commerce stores now feature a live chat feature in one corner of the homepage. This gives customers the ability to talk to a real representative, and be able to get support when needed. Alternatively, a chat bot can be installed to filter common queries and questions that can be answered automatically. This allows the business to employ fewer people to answer uncommon requests.
Any business, regardless of where it operates, must have proper customer support. Live chat or a hotline, in combination with clear and coherent terms and policies, will have a profound impact on building customer trust and loyalty.
A customer who has received satisfactory support will likely become an advocate for your business, so a careful set up of customer support is crucial.
All e-commerce stores have a ‘shopping cart’ mechanism that remembers all the products that the customer has chosen, so that he or she can pay for them all at once. Payment done on the website goes through several processes. Customers enter their payment card details, and this gets sent directly to a third-party service called a payment gateway, which validates the transaction with the client bank and forwards validation results back to the merchant server and merchant banking service.
Payment gateways ensure a secure and automatic payment that is compliant with PCI DSS standards in payment cards. Island Media Management’s team of web developers can help you implement this in your very own ecommerce website.
Cookies are small pieces of client-side data which allow websites to remember customers without them having to create an account. This cookies work together with other marketing technologies to enable you to serve customized ads that specifically target your past visitors — known as retargeting ads.
The 2018 GDPR Law of the European Union insists that you must notify visitors that the site runs cookies, and that users must specifically opt in to such data tracking. This involves some technical work in coding, but a company providing competent and modern website development services should already understand how to implement this.
At the moment, brick-and-mortar stores maintain one advantage over ecommerce stores — instantaneous product delivery. Ecommerce stores have to work together with a logistics/shipping company in order to provide timely product delivery to customers. This means having a consistent delivery schedule and a clear return policy.
You can make money online by shipping products worldwide and reducing costs associated with owning a brick-and-mortar store. One way to develop your first e-commerce store is to partner up with a website development agency like the friendly folks here at Island Media Management.