Is e-commerce right for my business

To sell on-line or not to sell on-line, that is the question

As we start a new marketing Matters Podcast series focusing on e-business, we start by asking the core question:

Should I be making my products & services available
on line through an e-commerce website?

We define E-business as the set of tools and business processes offered by the interconnectedness of today’s world. E-commerce is the sub set of these processes that allow you to make your products available through a website. But is E-commerce appropriate for your business?

Whilst this is a question that many businesses will have considered over the past couple of years, we thought it would be worth a post, looking at three key aspects:

  • What are you selling – is it practical to sell on line
  • Other aspects to selling online over and above the website
  • What benefits does it deliver to both you and your customers

Answering these 3 questions will hopefully point you in the right direction when making e-commerce decisions.

What are you selling – is it practical to sell on line

Obviously, if you are selling simple, easily defined, products then making these available on line can be straight forward. But as the product becomes more technical or complex, issues around selling on line also get more complex.

Selling a bespoke, technical solution on line can be challenging, but should not be discounted. Even in these circumstances it may be possible. We have a number of clients successfully selling complex products like industrial mixers and electronic monitoring & control systems on-line. The key here was to identify some more “standard options” that could be made available online, and to use the facilities offered by e-commerce systems to add options & variations to basic products.

Making this subset of products available through e-commerce delivers real benefits, not least from a search listing perspective delivering the opportunity to use shopping ads to promote your products. Whilst people may not find exactly what they want available to buy on line, it gets them onto your site, where you can promote the availability of more bespoke solutions & invite them to get in touch. So it’s not just about the products you actually sell on-line. The broader marketing opportunities for other products, not sold on-line need also to be considered.

Even if you are selling services like consultancy and coaching, where people are buying your time – creating the facility for people to book slots on-line, can deliver benefits.

Other aspects to selling online over and above the website

The next thing to consider is this. Getting your products available for sale on an e-commerce website is arguably, the easy bit! Once you give people the opportunity to buy products online, there are other things to consider:

Logistics

When people buy something on line, it needs to be shipped and the cost of shipping needs to be included. This may seem obvious but it can cause issues, especially if you are selling overseas.

Whilst it is possible to restrict where you deliver to, every shipping option will need to be considered. These must the be built into the system so that the correct shipping charges are applied at the point of purchase. Whilst e-commerce systems are able to handle highly complex & flexible shipping scenarios, it all needs to be set up and configured. This also applies to differing tax scenarios when you ship overseas.

Customer Service

People will have questions! Whilst you might want them simply to click “buy”, customers will want to communicate with you in the process. Making sure you have the resources to handle these enquiries is key to successful e-commerce. Again, technically these are straight forward to implement through systems like live chat and whatsapp messaging, but all need to be considered and more importantly, the resources to promptly answer questions be put in place.

Hosting and Security

Adding e-commerce functionality to your site will increase the server load, and mean that you may need to think about the type of server your using, whilst cheap shared hosting may be OK for a simple brochure site, once you add e-commerce, your site may require additional server resources. This too needs to be considered & costs factored in. Furthermore, whilst security & keeping your site technically up to date is always important, with e-commerce in the mix it becmes even more so, so using a security plugin like Wordfence, and ensuring that the site is kept up to date is even more important.

Catalogue & Stock Management

The final thing to consider here is this. OK, you have added your products to your site, but they need to be kept updated. New products need adding, old ones deleted, and prices need to be kept up to date. Creating a sustainable system for doing this is vital, especially if your catalogue is big and changing regularly.

Stock also needs to be considered, making sure that people can only buy items that are in stock. This can be particularly challenging if you have multiple sales channels as stock levels will need to be coordinated across the different platforms.

What benefits does it deliver to both you and your customers

Selling on-line via an e-commerce website is not a trivial decision, so it needs to deliver value to either your client or yourself. Ideally both! Whilst these benefits can be significant.  These benefits come at a cost, so you need to consider the level of these benefits and the costs associated in you decision whether or not to start selling on-line. Whatever the hype may tell you, e-commerce is not appropriate for every business!

The Bottom Line

In this post I have tended to focus on self hosted e-commerce, and whilst there are other e-commerce options other than hosting your own shop (Platforms like amazon or ebay for example, or using hosted e-commerce solutions like shopify) all have all still require the same consideration as to whether it is the right way to go for your business.

So, going back to our latest podcast series focusing on e-business, hopefully this post will have given food for thought regarding the decision to enter the e-commerce marketplace, but even if you decide not to go down this rout, e-commerce is only one element of e-business, so watch this space, and subscribe to our podcast!